Human occupation in the Buffalo River Valley began over 10,000 years ago. The oldest inhabitants are called Paleo-Indians, which means old Indians. The Paleo-Indians used bone, antler, stone and leather for their tools. Their subsistence was dependent upon hunting and scavenging animals. No sites from this period have been located within the park; the closest site is approximately six miles south of the Buffalo River .
The Dalton Period began around 10,000 years ago and continued until approximately 9000 years ago. This period saw climatic changes which introduced the oak, hickory and elm trees we see today. The megafauna (large animals) from the Paleo-Indian period became extinct and were replaced by the predecessors of today's modern animal communities. The river systems were also establishing their present river valleys and channels.
The Dalton Period is well documented in the Ozarks. The most diagnostic stone tool from this period is the biface. (Both sides of projectile points and cutting tools were chipped or worked by humans.) There are other stone implements from this period, such as sandstone mortars, grinding stones and pestles. These tools suggest an increasing subsistence strategy that processed wild plants for food, medicine, and ornamentation.
The Early to Middle Archaic Periods began approximately 9500 years before present (BP) and continued until 5000 BP. The stone tools from this period demonstrate major technological changes. The projectile points were no longer a uniform shape but became more stylized into corner-notched, side-notched, and stemmed varieties. Very little is known about the Early/Middle Archaic settlement patterns, site types, and subsistence. More research and site location/identification is needed for a more thorough understanding of this long and complicated period.
The Late Archaic and Early Woodland Periods began 5000 BP and continued to I 800 BP. The Early Woodland period site identification is Archaic period. The climate became moister after 5000 BP, which led to a pronounced oak-hickory forest. Deer and other forest-edge animals enlarged their habitats and this is supported in the archeological record.
Native Americans continued foraging wild plants and began squash and gourd gardening. This period witnessed changes in the settlement patterns. Prehistoric Indian camps were more frequently located in major river valleys and were occupied throughout the year. Toward the end of the Early Woodland period the bluff shelters became less general occupation sites and more similar to hunting/ butchering stations or special use sites.
The Middle and Late Woodland Periods existed between 1800 BP and 1100 BP. This period witnessed expanding trade networks across the mid-south. The archeological record at the Dirst Site contains a number of projectile point types and ceramics commonly found at Hopwellian sites in eastern Oklahoma and Missouri. One new technological addition around 1100 BP was the bow and arrow. Native plant foods continued to be a major source of subsistence, along with the establishment of maize as a food source.
The Mississippian Period was 1100 BP until the first historic contact around 300 years ago. The prehistoric inhabitants increased in population and lived in small groups scattered along the major waterways. They continued to use the rock shelters for specialized purposes, and established permanent sites on river terraces overlooking fertile bottomlands. There is archeological evidence that suggests greater dependence on maize. Shell-tempered, undecorated, flat-based ceramic wares represent a late variant of the Caddoan culture. Decorated and effigy wares are rarely found along the Buffalo River. One Mississippian mound group was investigated by the University of Arkansas Museum in 1980.
The Historic Period for the Native Americans in the Ozarks was a time of turbulence. When the French and Spanish explorers arrived, they encountered the Osage Indians. Between 1763 and 1804 the Osage had a number of seasonal hunting settlements between the White and Buffalo Rivers. The Cherokee, in 1817, signed a treaty with the US obtaining land between the White and Arkansas Rivers. In 1828, the Western Cherokee signed a new treaty opening up Arkansas to white settlers. The Cherokee were later forced to relocate to the new Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
Federal and state laws protect all Native American sites in Buffalo National River. It is illegal to: excavate, remove, damage, alter, or deface or attempt to ... sell, purchase, exchange, transport, receive, or offer to ... remove archeological resources ... Penalties for first-time offenders begin at $100,000 and forfeiture of vehicles, materials, and equipment. If you find an artifact, leave it where it is and report the location to a Park Ranger. Please leave the artifacts and rock shelters as you find them. America's heritage should be preserved for everyone.