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The Fourche Maline Focus defined preceramic and ceramic occupations at archaeological sites excavated by Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews during the 1940s in the Wister Lake area along the Poteau River and Fourche Maline Creek in eastern Oklahoma. These sites are often described as dark, accretional midden mounds. In 1980 the taxonomic term Fourche Maline Phase was introduced to characterize the ceramic occupations at these sites, while the preceramic zones were placed into the Wister Phase. At about the same time, the term Fourche Maline culture was beginning to be used to discuss similar sites elsewhere in the trans-Mississippi South, especially southwestern Arkansas.

Radiocarbon dates indicate a beginning date of around A.D. 1 for the focus, but there is evidence that it may begin as early as 300 B.C. Ending dates are considered to be around A.D. 700 to 800. This places the Fourche Maline well within the Woodland period.

The dominant tool forms were thick, grog-and-grit-tempered pottery (Williams Plain), contracting stemmed points (Gary), and double-bitted stone axes. There also occurred some expanding of stemmed dart points associated with the early part of the phase. Many tool forms are a continuation of tools appearing first in the Wister Phase. Small, corner-notched projectile points (Scallorn), reflecting the advent of the bow and arrow, appeared around A.D. 600. Other tools included bone implements such as hairpins, awls, fish hooks, and antler flakers and handles. Shell items, especially beads, were also present. Manos, grinding stones, cupstones, and hammerstones were common, and chipped- and ground-stone hoes suggest forest clearing and digging activities.

The groups based subsistence on hunting and gathering. They utilized white-tailed deer, turkey, squirrel, fox, turtle, birds, fish and shellfish. They also gathered plant materials such as hickory nuts, acorns, persimmons, honey locust beans, grapes, and sumac.

There is no direct evidence of houses, and post-mold patterns at most midden sites were irregular. Light-frame structures and three-sided structures, possibly arbors, may have been used. Burned rock scatters, likely used for plant processing, were common, and shallow pits have been found. Hearths, ash/clay concentrations, and scattered post molds may relate to occupational surfaces.

Formal cemeteries have not been identified, but flexed burials of single individuals were fairly common in the dark midden mounds. However, multiple burials and a low percentage of cremations also occurred. Burial goods consisted of utilitarian tools reflecting personal items buried at the time of interment. Exotic goods such as marine shell gorgets and beads were often found with children and infants. In some cases, dog burials were associated with human burials. Archaeologists calculate the average life expectancy to about twenty-six years and the average height for males at about five feet, six inches and for females, five feet, three inches. Dietary deficiencies and ailments such as arthritis affected these populations. Evidence in the form of projectile points embedded in bone also indicates violence as a cause of death.

Even though the Fourche Maline was originally defined for sites in the Wister Valley, there is evidence that similar occupations covered a good part of the Ouachita Mountains and eastern Oklahoma. The most common site type was the dark midden mound, but special-purpose and seasonal camps also occurred in bottomland and upland settings, and the populations seem to have been dispersed on a seasonal basis. Even though scholars do not know whether these were resident populations, these early peoples influenced later developments in the Arkansas and Red river valleys and throughout eastern Oklahoma. See also


BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. H. Althschul, Bug Hill: Excavation of a Multi-Component Midden Mound in the Jackfork Valley, Southeast Oklahoma, World Research Report of Investigation No. 81-1 (Pollock, La.: N.p., 1983). Robert E. Bell, "Fourche Maline: An Archaeological Manifestation in Eastern Oklahoma," Louisiana Archaeology 6 (1980). Robert E. Bell, ed., Prehistory of Oklahoma (Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press, 1984). Robert Bell and David A. Baerreis, "A Survey of Oklahoma Archaeology," Bulletin of the Texas Archaeological and Paleontological Society 22 (1951). Jerry R. Galm, The Archaeology of the Curtis Lake Site (34LF-5A), LeFlore County, Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center Research Series 2 (Norman: University of Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center, 1978). Rain Vehik, The Archaeology of the Bug Hill Site, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center Research Series 7 (Norman: University of Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center, 1982).

Rain Vehik

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