By The Associated Press
QUAPAW, Okla. — Members of the Quapaw tribe are teaming up with descendants of African-American slaves to research and preserve an archaeological site that contains the remains of their ancestors.
The burial sites were discovered on land that the Quapaw Tribe purchased in 2013. The land was part of the Thibault Plantation near the Little Rock Port Authority. Before that, it was part of the Quapaw’s historic reservation.
John House with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey estimated that the Native American graves at the site date back to 1400 to 1600, while the African-American graves in the same location probably date back from before the Civil War to the early 1900s.
House also said it is not uncommon for a prehistoric grave site to later serve as a grave site for other cultures.
“This is a very special place on the landscape,” House said in a statement. “So much of Arkansas’ history is told only through the lens of what occurred after white Europeans came here. But there were centuries of prior history, very much of it involving the Quapaw Tribe and other Native American tribes.”
John Berrey, chairman of the tribe, said, “We aren’t sure yet exactly what we will do at the site, so the immediate desire is to simply not disturb it.”
Tribal members recently met with members of the Preservation of African American Cemeteries to discuss the preservation of the site, but both groups said they wished to keep the burial site’s exact location a secret to prevent looting for historic artifacts.
This discovery comes on the heels of a similar one last summer, this one near Osceola, in northeastern Arkansas.
Berry said at that time that it was a Quapaw settlement, part of the area where Quapaws made contact with Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541, their first contact with Europeans.
Berrey also said that increased revenue that tribes have now from casinos and other businesses aids them in protecting tribal artifacts and cultural sites.