Battle Mound

The following is an excerpt from: (2017) The Battle Mound Landscape: Exploring Space, Place, and History of a Red River Caddo Community in Southwest Arkansas. Research Series No. 68, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.

The Battle Mound site (3LA1) is a Middle and Late Caddo (ca. A.D. 1200-1680) mound site located in the Great Bend region of the Red River basin in Lafayette County, Arkansas. The site is on the broad alluvial floodplain with the current river channel approximately 1.5 km to the west. The Great Bend region is ecologically diverse with agriculturally productive alluvial soil deposits, a diverse ecology, and interconnected navigable waterways. The region has changed dramatically throughout time owing to various dynamic and destructive river processes, along with a history of intensive agricultural use. High river activity and sediment deposition are characteristic of this part of the Red River, which is composed of numerous channel scars, oxbow lakes, and back swamps.

The Battle Mound site (and the surrounding area) is a place that is significant to the Caddo people, removed from this area in the 19th century, and to archaeologists, both of whom are interested in documenting and developing a broader understanding of the occupational history of the Great Bend region. To the Caddo people, the Battle Mound site represents a tangible piece of the landscape that serves to reconnect them with their past. To archaeologists, the site represents the largest extant mound in the entire Caddo archaeological area and one of the largest in the southeastern United States.

Recent research evaluates site organization in terms of architectural variability and how differential use areas can be compared to ethnographic and archaeological data concerning Caddo community structure and landscape use. Both archaeogeophysical and archaeohistorical data are utilized. Archaeogeophysical data refers to the use of terrestrial-based remote sensing and the interpretation of archaeological features across space. Archaeohistorical data refers to the analysis of material culture collected from earlier excavations and surface surveys. Material from excavation and surface survey datasets are used as material indicators of settlement patterning, intrasite behavioral practices, and Caddo culture history.


The theoretical framework is centered on archaeogeophysical and landscape theories and characteristics and traits that define the history of Caddo culture as documented in studies on Caddo ethnography, settlement patterning, architecture, and material culture. Three questions provide a framework for the research. First, how does Battle Mound compare to what is currently known about the spatial organization and settlement patterning of Caddo communities and farmstead clusters? In other words, what are the architectural characteristics and intrasite orientations that define these features and how do they correspond to what has been documented at other sites throughout the Caddo Homeland?

Second, are there differential use areas or intrasite behavioral practices that influenced settlement patterning and the use of space? If so, what areas possibly represent domestic (“farmstead”) and community (“ceremonial”) space, as defined by architectural variation and associated material culture?

And third, what is the Caddo culture history at the site? How does this history fit into what is known about settlement patterning, architectural features, and practices that define archaeological phases within the Great Bend region?


The geographic area of interest is the Great Bend Region in southwestern Arkansas within the Trans-Mississippi South – a biogeographical area characterized by a diverse combination of environmental zones that would have offered easy access to a variety of faunal and floral resources to be exploited (Figure 1). The site itself is located on the eastern bank of the Red River and is part of a larger group of sites dispersed over several kilometers, known archaeologically at the Spirit Lake Complex. Without a doubt, Battle Mound certainly served as a center of population and social organization in the Great Bend region during the Middle to Late Caddo period, defined archaeologically as the Haley (ca. A.D. 1200-1500) and Belcher (ca. A.D. 1500-1700) phases.

Figure 1: Distribution of archaeological sites within the Spirit Lake Complex

When the distribution and distances between sites within the Spirit Lake Complex is examined regionally, the broad level organization is similar to the Upper Nasoni community documented in the 1691 Domingo Teran de los Rios map. The map displays a dispersed community of numerous farmsteads with circular structures organized along the Red River. A large mound is located on the periphery with a vacant area to the south and west and three constructed structures present in the immediate vicinity. The distribution of these features across the landscape has been referred to as the Teran model of settlement patterning. Testing of this model has been conducted at a few sites and consensus in research demonstrates some architectural similarities in style and form of construction as those on the map. However, there are disparities in the distribution of structures as it relates to a vacancy around the mound, where a mound exists in those studies.


In terms of the size of the Nasoni community, I argue that the question of scale should be more fully explored if the Teran model is to be properly evaluated. Generally, sites tested against the model do not conform to the vacant mound settlement patterning. Does this mean the map is inaccurate? Does this mean that the intrasite settlement patterning of the community is unique? I suggest that it means that the question of scale remains unresolved. There are stylistic consistencies that can be examined in an attempt to better estimate distances of structures and farmsteads from the large mound. In other words, does the area around the temple mound represent a vacant space, or does it simply “seem” that way because the scale of the map is not fully understood?

It has been suggested that the Nasoni community is spread out over at least 4 km and a possible 9 km or more. This analysis of the size of the community is what I refer to as a “top down” perspective of scale where the distributional size of the community is addressed in terms of a birds-eye view of the entire community. If the “top down” scale is applied to the Battle Mound vicinity, we should expect to find farmsteads distributed over several kilometers. This is exactly what is recorded in the Arkansas archaeological sites database that shows sites distributed over approximately 6 km with Battle Mound located on the northern extent of an organization of numerous Haley and Belcher phase sites (see Figure 1).

Using this “top down” scale to understand distances, a rough estimate of the distance of farmstead groups and the large mound is about 300 m (using the 4 km community size) and 700 m (using the 9 km community size)(Figure 2). Using this “top down” scale, the sizes of the circular structures are approximately 60 m in diameter (using the 4 km community size) and 150 m in diameter (using the 9 km community size). Clearly, this is inconsistent with ethnographic and archaeological data that we have about Haley and Belcher phase architecture. If the “top down” approach is applied to the Battle Mound site, we should expect little or no architectural features to be present in the immediate vicinity (< 300 m) of the large mound.

Figure 2: The “top down” analysis of the Teran map and the size of architectural features.


The data in this research are used to examine a second settlement model of settlement patterning at the intrasite level or “bottom up” approach. This approach examines the settlement patterning where the distributional size of the community is discussed in terms of the known size of architectural features. The sizes are applied to dimensions of structures on the Teran map and a scale derived – in this case, using average diameter of structures at 10 m (Figure 3). When this derived scale is applied to the entire map, the dispersed community is closer to 650 m in size and likely represents only a portion of a larger dispersed community, rather than the entire community. The structures within the farmstead groups are roughly 40-60 m from the large mound.

So then, it is suggested that settlement patterning represents a combination of two models. On a community scale, there is a pattern of farmsteads distributed several kilometers with a large supporting mound. However, on an intrasite scale the distribution of architectural features is denser with the presence of structures only a few meters from the mound and from each other. As such, the Battle Mound site has been utilized to test the intrasite distribution of structures and farmsteads to each other and the large mound. To do this, three datasets were examined to address the aforementioned research questions: 1) Mound excavations from 1948 and 1980, 2) surface collection material from 1979-1991, and 3) archaeogeophysical survey conducted from 2007-2012.

Figure 3: The “bottom up” analysis of the Teran map and the size of architectural features.


Mound excavations demonstrate a variety of activity on the mound during the Haley and Belcher phases, as documented with the presence of several structures, occupational areas, ceramic types associated with these time periods, and a series of radiocarbon dates. On the south platform, the excavation of a multiple floor circular structure documents a construction sequence where the lower floor contained two fire pits (Figure 4). After some time, the lower floor was cleaned and covered with a thin layer of red sand, three central support posts were dug into the lower floor, and a new fire pit was established. This construction sequence suggests that the roof of the structure was dismantled fully or partially during the retrofit and a new roof was constructed. At a later time, the structure was set aflame, the walls pushed in, and a clay soil deposited over the burned remains. Calibrated radiocarbon dates gathered from corncobs range from A.D. 1460 – 1520 placing its use during the late Haley and early Belcher phases. Additional temporal support is evident in the nine cooking pots found on the upper floor (see Figure 4). Six of the vessels are fairly large in size and represent Haley and Belcher phase cooking vessels.

Figure 4: Excavated structure from the South Platform and select cooking pots found on structure floor.


On the north platform, two superimposed circular structures document a construction sequence different from that on the south platform (Figure 5). A lower structure (Structure 3) was constructed over clean red mound fill and later burned. A thin layer of clay, followed by sand and gravel, was deposited over the burned remains. Structure 2 was then built. There is no evidence that the upper Structure 2 was burned. Missing from the north structures is evidence of multiple floors, large cooking vessels, and large fire pits (any fire pits). A radiocarbon date provides a date range from A.D. 1390 – 1430 during the Haley phase.

Figure 5: Structure 3 on the North Platform


A second set of data are material collected from the surface in ten different areas. Eight areas are situated immediately proximate to the mound on the east, north, and west. Two areas are located at some distance on low elevated landforms. Artifacts predominantly include prehistoric ceramic sherds and lithic material, chunks of daub, historic debris, and animal bone. Overall, all areas within the surface collection contain artifacts that represent a significant period of occupation at the site ranging from at least the Archaic and into the Late Caddo period as demonstrated by a large variety of Haley and Belcher phase ceramic sherds, such as Pease Brushed-Incised, Foster Trailed-Incised, Belcher Engraved, and Glassell Engraved to name a few.

Densities and types of material collected reveal differential use areas directly associated with the mound. North and east are associated with domestic functions and the west associated with more communal functions. Communal areas are suggested based on a lack of ceramic and lithic debris associated with structures that were cleaned prior to burning.


The geophysical data collected present the first broad scale visualization of a Red River community. The most productive and informative dataset has been the use of magnetic gradiometry surveyed within 14.32 hectares. Results demonstrate a dense Caddo community filled with circular and rectangular structures, cemeteries, and farmsteads. Examples include concentric circular anomalies located east of the large platform mound on two low topographic rises (Figure 6). The first rise, approximately 100 m from the mound, contains at least seven circular structures. The second rise, approximately 200 m from the mound, contains at least two large circular structures and two small rectangular structures. The concentric circles are interpreted as the remnants of either soil berms constructed around the outside of the structures or interior partitioned areas, such as that documented at the Werner site. Given their proximity to the mound, location on low rises, and distinctive patterning, these structures are interpreted as components that define communal spaces. The corpus of geophysical anomalies represent a total of thirty-two circular structures, eighteen rectangular structures, farmstead areas, three compound fences, three community cemeteries, and a buried borrow pit. Certainly, a complex prehistoric settlement existed close to the large mound.

Figure 6: Magnetic gradiometry results compared with excavated Caddo structures.


When these three datasets are examined cumulatively, they allow for a more holistic examination of spatial organization and settlement patterning, intrasite differential use and activity areas, and the cultural history at the site. In addressing the first research question, the cultural landscape should be examined by using a combination of two settlement pattern models. The regional or “top down” scale shows that the Spirit Lake Complex is composed of a settlement pattern of numerous farmsteads distributed several kilometers with the large mound situated to the north of the community. This model of spatial organization and settlement patterning is similar and compares nicely to what has been defined archaeologically and ethnographically.

The intrasite or “bottom up” scale reveals that there are structures and other cultural material that define intensively utilized areas throughout the village right up to the mound edge. While the distribution does not compare with what is documented ethnographically, the architectural composition and size of structures is similar to what was been documented archaeologically. Using the geophysical and surface data in concert, areas with high magnetic circular anomalies correspond with surface collection areas that contain higher occurrences of daub and represent the remains of burned circular walled structures, much like those drawn on the Teran map. Contrastingly, two areas contain geophysical anomalies of low magnetic circular structures. In these areas, very little daub was collected and demonstrates variability in architecture with a second type of structure more similar to a grass lodge without wattle-daub walls, like the grass lodge that was constructed at the George C. Davis site and then, many years later, quickly burned to the ground in only a few minutes. Other areas reveal a third architectural type. To the west and north, rectangular structures dominate with the northern area and contain the highest amount of daub and high magnetic signatures. Additionally in these areas, supporting features are located, such as community cemeteries and possible compound fences.

In addition to the village area, mound top excavations document the presence of multiple structures and construction sequences tied to the burning, burying, and rebuilding of structures. The structures are circular in form and represent two different construction sequences. Also interpreted are pre-mound occupational areas on the sound end of the mound. The occupational areas were associated with cooking activities close to the mound. Ceramic and radiocarbon data demonstrate the area was utilized during the late Haley phase with the south platform built over the top during the early to middle Belcher phase.


The second research question is related to the differential use areas and proposed function of the identified Caddo structures. Geophysical and surface collection data in the village document clusters of circular structures situated on low rises to the east of the mound. The difference in proposed architecture types found on the low mounds is suggested to represent differences in function and social use. It is proposed that the large high magnetic walled structures on one of the low mounds represent council houses where it has been documented ethnographically that the “council building was a large one, and the architecture different from that of the round grass lodge.”

Relatedly, it is proposed that the low magnetic cluster of several grass lodge circular structures on the other low mounds represent temporary structures that housed visiting chiefs and emissaries from surrounding tribes during periods of ceremony. Ethnohistoric accounts document visitations between the Hasinai groups of east Texas and Red River Kadohadacho were frequent and reciprocal. Neighboring groups would visit “en masse” after seasonal harvests to “renew their friendships, reaffirm their pledges of mutual aid against common enemies, exchange gifts, carry on trade, display prowess, and make merry together.” Similar visits and celebrations would certainly have occurred with groups in the Arkansas, Ouachita and Ozan Creek drainages and beyond. Similar ceramic styles demonstrate this integrated exchange and reciprocity of social concepts and ideas. In preparation for these elaborate celebrations individuals were summoned together to provide food and construct lodging for visiting dignitaries. These palimpsest activities were concentrated on the low mounds and would explain the lack of daub linked to the construction of more temporary grass lodges, the low number of ceramics in these areas, the close spatial relationship to the mound and council houses on the adjacent low mound, and the high concentration of low magnetic circular structures.

Additional areas of differential use in the village area are the presence of at least one farmstead group and possibly more. Northwest of the mound contains numerous anomalies of high magnetic signature and the highest quantity of ceramic sherds, lithic debris, and daub pieces. It represents an area of increased activities directly associated with daily behaviors and domestic duties. This area also contained the highest amount of brushed and undecorated sherds – design attributes associated with vessels of more utilitarian use.

Excavations on the mound also reveal differential use areas with the south platform associated with communal activities and the north platform associated with domestic activities. The large fire pits and an abundance of oversize cooking vessels are demonstrative of the cooking of large quantities of food directly associated with communal ceremonies. Differentially, the structures on the north platform are domestic and represent the location of the residence an important high-ranking individual, such as the chiefly Xinesi or Caddi. The burning and burying of the structures on the north mound are associated with mortuary events and the death of the high status individual that lived on the mound sometime during the middle to late 14th century. When integrated intrasite behavioral practices are summarized as a whole, communally based events occurred on the eastern extent of the site, with the interpretation of council houses and temporary dwellings for visiting dignitaries situated on the low rises. Communal space is also extended to the south of the mound with the defined “occupational areas” as places utilized for the preparation of food tied to feasting ceremonies. On the north platform is the home of the community leader, perched up on the mound platform and socially and symbolically linked to the daily activities and events associated with the domestic structures in the farmstead group, also on the north.


The third question is related to the culture history at the site and how this history fits into Great Bend archaeological phases. Temporal information (ceramic chronology and radiocarbon dates) gained from this research further confirms that the Battle site was a principal mound center during the Middle and Late Caddo period or Haley and Belcher phases. Certainly, the site and its occupants were instrumental in maintaining social cohesion throughout the Red River Valley and beyond. Within the Spirit Lake Complex, there are several sites that contain Haley or Belcher phase components. Sites like Cedar Grove, Red Cox, Foster, and Crenshaw all demonstrate contemporaneity with the Battle site. Ceramic material collected from both the mound and village area is predominantly Haley and Belcher phase types. Familiar types, such as Foster Trailed-Incised, Pease Brushed-Incised, and Moore Noded, are numerous. More so, varieties of Haley and Belcher phase ceramics have been found at numerous sites throughout the Caddo area that demonstrate that the occupants of Battle mound (and the larger Spirit Lake Complex) were engaged in long distance interaction and cultural linkages with groups up and down the Red River Valley and throughout the Caddo Homeland at least during the Middle and Late Caddo period.

Finally, the proposed mound construction sequence, although not fully realized, offers additional insight into the culture history at the site. What is known is that the mound is characterized by an occupational cooking area (south) and companion domestic structure (north) during the Haley phase. At some later time around a transitional period into the Belcher phase, the occupational area was covered and the south platform was constructed. It is still not known if the large mound evolved from a single mound or several separate mounds that became conjoined over time. Current data suggests that the south platform was added and joined to what is now the central main portion of the mound during the early Belcher phase. The differential use of space on the mound develops during the Haley phase and continues into the early Belcher phase with the cook house (Structure 1) built on the south platform. Similar differential use on mound platforms has been documented elsewhere. Structures at these sites vary in shape and dimension, yet the organization, use, and disposal is similar. This consistency suggests the presence of a set of underlying principles that govern the layout and integrated ceremonies rather than a specific adherence to architectural shape.

The Battle site is the first Red River community to receive the amount of geophysical coverage necessary for an examination of settlement patterning at both “top down” and “bottom up” scales of a Caddo community village. The testing of these two scales has allowed for a multiple resolution and scale approach. Results from these data should be integrated with additional spatial cultural datasets that will inform on other cultural attributes and humanistic characteristics about Caddo culture. Such integration will allow for the creation of a “parallel system of classification” that can be comparatively used in distributional studies of a variety of archaeological datasets.

For more information:

Girard, Jeffrey S., Timothy K. Perttula, and Mary Beth Trubitt
2014 Caddo Connections: Cultural Interactions within and Beyond the Caddo World. Rowman & Littlefield.
Guccione, Margaret J.
1984 Variations of the Red River Channel in Southwest Arkansas. In Cedar Grove: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of a Late Caddo Farmstead in the Red River Valley, edited by Neal L. Trubowitz, pp. 17-25. Research Series No. 23. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.2008Impact of the alluvial style on the geoarcheology of stream valleys. Geomorphology 101:378-401.
Kvamme, Kenneth L.
2003 Geophysical Surveys as Landscape Archaeology. American Antiquity 68:435-457.
McKinnon, Duncan P.
2008 An Archaeogeophysical Analysis of Central Caddo Settlement Patterning at Battle Mound (3LA1). Masters thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

2009 Exploring Settlement Patterning at a Premier Caddo Mound Site in the Red River Great Bend Region. Southeastern Archaeology 28(2): 248-258.2010aSummer 1948: A Summary of the Krieger Excavations at Battle Mound (3LA1), a Premier Caddo Mound Site in the Red River Great Bend Region. Arkansas Archeologist 49:1-16.

2010b Continuing the Research: Archaeogeophysical Investigations at the Battle Mound Site (3LA1) in Lafayette County, Arkansas. Southeastern Archaeology 29(2):248-258.

2011 Thirty Years in the Foil: An ARF-Funded AMS Date from Battle Mound (3LA1). Field Notes: Newsletter of the Arkansas Archeological Society 362:6-8.

2012 Corn Cobs Collected in 1948: An ARF-Funded Date from Battle Mound (3LA1). Field Notes: Newsletter of the Arkansas Archeological Society 368:8-9.

2013a Landscape as a Ritual Object: Exploring Some Thoughts on Organized Space in the Great Bend Region in Southwestern Arkansas. Caddo Archeology Journal 23:67-84.

2013b Battle Mound: Exploring Space, Place, and History of a Red River Caddo Community in Southwest Arkansas. PhD dissertation. Department of Anthropology. University of Arkansas.
McKinnon, Duncan P. and Jamie C. Brandon
2009a Report From the Field: Archaeogeophysical Results from Battle Mound (3LA1). Field Notes: Newsletter of the Arkansas Archeological Society, 348: 9-12.

McKinnon, Duncan P., Jeffrey S. Girard, and Timothy K. Perttula
2021 Ancestral Caddo Ceramic Traditions. Louisiana State University Press.

Perttula, Timothy K.
1992“The Caddo Nation”: Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Perspectives. University of Texas Press, Austin.Perttula, Timothy K., and Chester P. Walker

2012 The Archaeology of the Caddo. University of Nebraska Press.Perttula, Timothy K., Dayna Bowker Lee, and Robert Cast

2008 The First People of the Red River: The Caddo Before and After Freeman and Custis. In Freeman and Custis Red River Expedition of 1806: Two Hundred Years Later, edited by Laurence M. Hardy, pp. 81-110. Bulletin No. 14 of the Museum of Life Sciences. Louisiana State University in Shreveport, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Schambach, Frank F.
1982 The Archeology of the Great Bend Region in Arkansas. In Contributions to the Archeology of the Great Bend Region, edited by Frank F. Schambach and Frank Rackerby, pp. 1-11. Research Series No. 22. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.