We went on a field trip last weekend! It’s been a while since I’ve visited Toltec Mounds State Park, and long overdue. But, it was a little like re-reading a great book from 10 years ago – you remember the gist of the story and how good it was, but going there again brings back all the nuances and details you’d forgotten, and made it all new again.
The good news is that we will be going back again next weekend (September 21) for the Fall Equinox Celebration from 3pm to 7pm. At 4:30, the staff will give a presentation demonstrating how the mounds aligned at particular solar events (seasons). Cost is $4 for adults, $3 for children 6-12, and under 6 is free. I can’t wait!
A brief history for those who may not have ever heard of Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park, the area was officially made a state park in 1975. Prior to that, it was privately owned land – farmland, no less – and almost all of the historic mounds were razed in their efforts to grow crops, mostly cotton, in the fertile ground that used to be a channel in the Arkansas River.
The mounds at one time were believed to have been built by members of the Toltec culture in Mexico, but anthropologists and archaeologists later concluded that this was highly unlikely. From then on, the culture that lived here from about 650 A.D. to 1050 A.D. has been generally referred to as the Plum Bayou culture, for lack of a better descriptor.
Since there was no written language for these people, much of what we know was gleaned from the things they left behind, and from certain shared characteristics among tribes and cultures in the area during that time period.
From what I learned (re-learned!) during our visit was that there are probably more questions than answers when you look at the brief existence of these peoples here. Where did they come from? What was their social structure? civil structure? How many people considered this particular location their Mecca and travel here for ceremonies or festivals or celebrations? And most puzzling is, why did they abandon this site… and where did they go?
From what we can piece together, the Toltec Mounds was likely a smaller group made up of the leaders of the larger community. The other members were scattered about throughout the area, and would gather here for special occasions. And we have every reason to believe these people were a peaceful lot. There is no evidence of war or crime. Yay!
The Plum Bayou culture lived on this spot for approximately 400 years, which, in the grand scheme of things, is a short period of time. We do not know where they came from nor who their descendants are. We do know they had knowledge of astronomy because the mounds are spaced and placed at specific heights and locations in order to line up during the solstices and equinoxes to help the natives with their still-developing planting and harvesting skills.
So many other fascinating facts, but I’ll save them for you to learn when you visit! If you can’t come this weekend for the Fall Equinox Celebration, do try to visit sometime,
Toltec Mounds is not far from Little Rock, so for those of you who are in the central Arkansas area, this makes a good day trip. Check out their particulars at www.arkansasstateparks.com.