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Artifacts found during Highway 112 ARDOT construction survey

An archaeologist said the excavation is "the most significant archeological site" he's seen in Arkansas.

TONTITOWN, Ark. — Commonwealth Heritage Group, a Memphis-based organization leading the excavation, was brought in to uncover the archaeological site found while preparing for construction on Highway 112.

The prehistoric site was found during a standard archeological survey before  Arkansas Department of Transportation's Highway 112 expansion project.

Senior archeologist with Commonwealth Heritage Group Jack Rossen says this is the most significant archaeological site he has seen in Arkansas, estimated to be between 6,000 and 9,000 years old.

"What's the story of these people who lived here? And how were they living? And what was their lifestyle? What were they eating? And how are they related to each other?" Rossen asked.

These are questions Commonwealth Heritage Group is digging up the answers to.

"We have direct evidence of what their community looked like, not just a bunch of artifacts in the ground. That pushes it to another level of significance," Rossen said.

The team is working to paint a picture of the people who once lived here. 

"I think there was a big cookhouse that was about 30 feet long, that had big fire hearths in it, where they were cooking for a band of could be 40 or 50 people, and there were little huts around it," Rossen said.

Rossen says it's difficult to connect these archaic people to a modern Native American tribe, but the Osage Tribe is working with the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) on this project.

Any federally funded project must include a three-phase archaeological survey before construction begins. The first two phases involve limited testing.

"And then if they still think it's important, the DOT has a choice: they can either avoid the site, change the path of the road, or they can go through full-scale excavation, which is phase three. And that's what we're doing here," Rossen said.

He and his team will take the recovered artifacts to Memphis for analysis. Then, ARDOT will begin highway construction as planned.

"There is something kind of sad about that the site will be destroyed, it will be gone. But at the same time, it's kind of nice that we get to get some information out of it and tell the story of it before it's destroyed," Rossen said.

Commonwealth Heritage tells 5NEWS they're approaching a three-week break in the excavation process while they wait for their new plan to get approved. They will pick back up in mid-July and continue through August.

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