A few weeks ago when I was driving the back roads from Stuttgart to Little Rock, I came upon the sign for Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. Of course, this resulted in a little side trip. It isn’t every day you come upon prehistoric mounds protruding from rural, flat Arkansas.
I’d always heard about Toltec Mounds. Oddly enough, this was my first visit.
Toltec Mounds originally consisted of eighteen mounds built by the Plum Bayou Native Americans between 650 A.D. and 1050 A.D. Only one mound was used as a burial site. Religious leaders lived at the top of a few of the flat-topped mounds. Most fascinating to me was the arrangements of the mounds. They are perfectly spaced and aligned with equinox and solstice sunrise and sunset.
Wow. I can’t plant seedlings in a straight row.
Only a small population of people actually lived at Toltec Mounds. Mostly Toltec was used as a ceremonial and religious gathering place for the Native American farmers who lived in surrounding areas. It was their capitol area.
Toltec Mounds was designated a National Historic Place in 1978. Today it is managed by Arkansas State Parks in conjunction with Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Before the site was designated historic, a few of the mounds were lost to the farmer’s plow. Still, there are several mounds in tact and easily visible. Two of the largest measure 39 and 49 feet tall. To grasp the scale, compare the mound in the first picture to the huge tree beside it.
Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park includes two self-guided walking trails (approximately 3/4 mile and 1.5 mile), an interpretive museum, and an educational film. Guided group tours are available by reservation. There’s a gift shop with souvenirs and a variety of books on the Plum Bayou and Native American culture.
The site is located on the bank of an oxbow lake formed by the Arkansas River. The walking trail winds along the edge of the lake and makes a great spot for birding, reading, or thinking.
In the 1800s, folks believed local tribes weren’t advanced enough to build such impressive earthen structures. They attributed the site to the Toltecs in Mexico who they surmised once lived in Eastern part of the U.S. Later, archeologists from the Smithsonian surveyed and tested the area and determined the mounds were in fact built by local Native Americans. But the Toltec name stuck.
The Plum Bayou Native Americans abandoned the site in 1050 and archeologist can find no reason for this.
Toltec Mounds is a magnificent wonder and certainly worth a trip. Walking among the mounds feels otherworldly and sacred. Thank goodness for preservationists who tirelessly work to protect historic land and archeologists who translate ancient secrets for us mere mortals.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
Van Morrison, Sense of Wonder