By H. R. Antle
In Sec. 3R 5E T 3N, of Pontotoc County, are a group of circular mounds, averaging thirty feet in diameter which have been identified as collapsed earth-lodges, Caddoan in origin.
These mounds were first observed in 1930 when the writer could not associate their appearance as having been the result of natural causes.1 With the assistance of six Boy Scouts two of these structures were dug into and an immediate discovery of pottery and bones was made. Realizing the importance of the find, digging was called to a halt. Three years later the writer was connected with an archeaological investigation conducted by the University of Oklahoma. Methods of proper investigation were learned. In the fall of this year (1934), with a better background for the work, excavations were resumed. Only one of the mounds was opened.
Beginning several feet from the extreme southern edge of the mound, a trench six feet wide was dug down to a depth of four feet. This was continued until a hard brick-like clay was exposed three feet deep. From there on the surface soil was removed from the clay and a curved surface appeared. The structure was assumed from the beginning to follow the descriptions set forth by Dr. Jos. B. Thoburn a few years back.2 After the roofing material was exposed, a careful dissection was begun.
With a small pick the hard-baked clay was removed. Just beneath this a heavy layer of charcoal was exposed. With a butcher knife and ice-pick, the charcoal was removed and sifted for any object that it might contain.
1Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 7, "Prehistoric, Cultures of Oklahoma" p. 219, Dr. Thoburn, states mounds of this type occur in places as a landscape feature and offers the opinion they are of human origin. During the last year the author went over some of the localities mentioned and many other places not mentioned where these mounds occur so regularly. One of the most abundant presentations, is in a pasture about five miles north of McAlester. The field is covered with these structures. Several other sites were located and examined and found sometimes to be the result of resistant material in the soil; soils held against erosion by trees no longer growing on the spot; animal burrows openings; collapsed earth-lodges; unknown causes.
From the beginning, charred human bones were disclosed. The skeletons lay in every conceivable position, sometimes several in a pile. Bones of children were intermingled with those of adults. Many of these bones were carefully cleaned and removed in a cast. Only three complete skulls were found, the rest having been crushed. It is assumed the crushing was due to the collapse of the roof. That the bodies were burned near the time of, death is a positive fact. Within the whole skulls, the brains had been charred into cinder. A matrix of charred flesh and blood was found near the door-way.
An explanation at this point perhaps would enlighten the reader on the preserving qualities of charcoal. Decomposition of minerals is carried on mainly by oxidation. One form of decomposed iron, is iron oxide. In these structures, the charcoal unites with the oxygen, oxidizing, thereby protecting the objects it surrounds. In case a charred object is oxidized, the process is so slow the object retains its form for many years.
Near the entrance, the greatest number of skeletons were found. This entrance was in the southwestern portion of the mound and so identified by the extension of a "neck" of the roof. The skeletons were less numerous in the northwestern portion of the mound. Eight uncharred skeletons were located, but in such a condition as to prohibit removal. They were dusted free of dirt and photographed. A section of the floor was removed with the bones in position.
Beneath the bones, a hard-tramped floor was exposed. It was level and so hard as to resist the attacks of the pick. Along the extremities of the mound, caches were discovered. The contents were charred acorns, pots of ear-corn, mussel shells and some objects lacking identity. Pipes of stone and clay, some pointed and others bowled, were found. Pottery, crude and heavy and with no decorations save an occasional incised marking was found. In some of the pots, charred acorns and corn were found. The pots varied from gourd-like jugs to open vessels a foot and a half across. The edges of the larger pots were sometimes perforated.
Celts of varying sizes, spear points, mattocks and drills together with an assortment of unclassified flint objects were
found. Eight stone mortars, one weighing ninety pounds, many grinding stones were picked up on the hillside where the mounds were found.
An examination of the edge of the location disclosed two post holes, four inches across and a foot deep. The clay covering was a mass of red clay worked up with grass and spread over a frame-work of twigs which had been woven about the maims stanchions. As a very complete description of a Caddoan earth lodge has appeared before in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the reader is referred to that.3
This find yielded no ornaments such as are found farther east. The people appear to have been on the western extremes of the prehistoric Caddoan domain and were without the complete culture of their eastern kinsmen.4 That they met a violent end can not be doubted. The presence of arrows and bones broken by twisting leads the writer to believe they were suddenly set upon and as suddenly annihilated. Several arrows were in direct association with various of the skeletons.
4ibid. p. 218; 234-237.
References for more information relative to the Caddoan stock:—
Oklahoma State and Its People— Thoburn and Wright; Vol. I. Chapter II; p. 16 "Earth-house People."
Bureau of Am. Ethn., Bul. 30, part 2; p. 214. Northward movement of the Caddoes.
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 3. pp. 319-323. Du Tisne's Expedition Into Oklahoma.
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 2, 331-350. La Harpe's Expedition in Oklahoma.