FORT JOHNSON ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES
Prehistory is the period of human history that occurred prior to recorded events, known mainly through archaeological discoveries, study, and research. In the Americas, prehistory (also Pre-Hispanic or Pre-Contact) usually refers to the time prior to European exploration. Often, the only information we have about the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their life-ways is through the archaeological record. Prehistoric archeological sites and the patterns of artifacts within them are like an unwritten history book. To alter or destroy these sites without proper documentation damages our ability to learn and study prehistoric peoples for the edification of future generations. Archeological resources are irreplaceable and each artifact is a part of a complex puzzle from the past. That is why the U.S. Congress and Presidents have passed protective and enforceable laws to preserve these cultural sites and the artifacts recovered from them.
Fort Johnson is rich in both prehistoric and historic cultural resources, and whenever military training, construction, or timber management occurs there is the potential that these important vestiges of the past may be disturbed. Since 1972, archaeological surveys have been conducted in order to identify and protect significant places and artifacts from the past. Archeological survey work is the initial step in identifying the location, age, and importance of cultural resources. Extensive surveys have taken place on the installation and over 4,000 sites have been recorded. Most of the archaeological sites on Fort Johnson contain prehistoric artifacts; some also contain historic artifacts. When the military took control of the area in 1941 there were approximately 250 historic homesites. Large oaks, cedar and other trees often mark the former location of these places and sometimes artifacts can be found at these locations. In addition, there are 23 historic cemeteries maintained by Fort Johnson.
Fort Johnson does not protect all archaeological sites and cultural resources on the installation. Once a site has been identified, further testing may be necessary to better understand the significance of the site. To accomplish this, larger excavation units are opened and additional artifacts, carbon samples for dating, and soils are collected. The “significance” of the site is determined through national (National Register of Historic Places) and state standards, and through consultation with affiliated Native American Tribes and the State Historic Preservation Office. In the rare case that a significant archaeological resource cannot be protected, large scale excavations may be implemented to recover as much information as possible before they are destroyed.
FORT JOHNSON ARCHAEOLOGICAL COLLECTION
The Fort Johnson Archaeological Collection is a time capsule for present and future generations to study and research the people that once occupied the area that the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson now utilizes. Fort Johnson houses archeological artifacts and records for all excavations and cultural resources projects conducted on the installation. It also houses various historic reference maps and one large mural that was removed from the old Service Club (building 1733). One other mural was removed from the old Post Field house (building 1411) and erected in the Warrior Brigade Fitness Center to give Soldiers the opportunity to view and appreciate art from their predecessors.
It is estimated that 90 percent of the Fort Johnson Collection consist of prehistoric artifacts. Eighty percent of the prehistoric artifacts are chipped stone tools and the debris from making stone tools. These artifacts come from various different prehistoric time periods and cannot be directly linked to a specific tribal group of today. They are only linked to the specific cultural lifeways of populations or groups that existed through time in specific geographical areas.
Archaeological Time Periods
Paleoindian Period (Circa 11500 B.C. – 7200 B.C.)
This period is divided into three eras: Early, Middle and Late Paleoindian. The oldest evidence of human occupation on the military reservation comes from the Early Paleoindian Period. The artifact type typically associated with this period is called the Clovis point (and often the term “Clovis culture” is used by archaeologists). These chipped stone points, along with tools for processing animal hides and starting fires, are the only artifacts remaining that are believed to date to this period. However, there is no evidence of ground stone tools, pottery, or even basketry. Instead, their primary tools were large lanceolate points used as spear points to hunt big game such as mammoths. Paleoindians were nomadic hunters and gatherers who traveled in small bands or groups and often made their tools from exotic raw lithic materials (stone from other regions outside present-day Louisiana).
The Middle Paleoindian Period consists of the San Patrice Culture in the Fort Johnson area. These people produced San Patrice spear points that were smaller than those found in the Early Paleoindian Period. Some evidence indicates the type of animals that were hunted may have shifted to primarily bison and deer. Also, there is evidence in an increase in population and expansion of territorial use during this time.
San Patrice Projectile Point
Many of the practices that began in the Middle Paleoindian period continued into the Late Paleoindian Period. However, the projectile points were slightly larger and made from stone gathered from the Fort Johnson area. Biface knives (cutting implements chipped on both sides to form a symmetric shape) appeared as well.
Archaic Period (7200 B.C. – 800 B.C.)
This period is divided into three eras: Early, Middle and Late Archaic. Ground stone tools appear during the early part of the period as manos (hand held grinding implements), metates (surface grinding stones), and abraders (tools used to sharpen the edges of another tool). Multiple stone hand tools are found for cutting, piercing, and scraping. There is no evidence of pottery or basketry; however, there is evidence of more complex social groups. There is also evidence of a climatic strain on populations and tools become more diversified.
Archaeological sites from the early Archaic culture show evidence of a people utilizing past stone tool technology while transitioning from living a fully nomadic life to living semi-nomadically or moving on a seasonal schedule. These cultural traditions are parallel to those found in the broader southeastern United States dating to the same time period. Specific tool types and settlements from the early Archaic period found at Fort Johnson are very similar to those found in east Texas.
In the Middle Archaic a new technology was introduced, likely by people living further east, perhaps in Florida or along the Georgia coast. The first cultural use of clay materials appears during the Middle Archaic period. Small lumps of clay were hardened in fires, but not in the shape of pots or bowls; instead, lumps of clay were possibly used as an indirect heat source for cooking by dropping the clay balls directly into hide or stone bowls in order to boil water. These “baked clay objects” (or BKOs) are among the earliest occurrences of man-made clay material usage in the Southeastern archeological record.
The Late Archaic peoples left evidence of the rise of complex trade networks and societies with semi-nomadic life-styles. Both east Texas and east Louisiana point types continued to be made and utilized, yet the raw materials used were increasingly local stone. Further research determined that the local chert gravel resources appeared to be the primary reason for occupation, with the semi-nomadic groups mining stone to transport elsewhere, perhaps for trading purposes.
Woodland Period (800 B.C. – 1200 A.D.)
This period marks the beginning of the utilization of pottery in the Southeastern archaeological record. Some evidence of basketry is also found in the archeological record during this period. A more sedentary lifestyle is evident through these household items. The Woodland Period is broken into three eras: Early, Middle and Late, tracked primarily through the changes in pottery technology over time. Evidence of lineal distribution and cultural associations are theorized through the similarities and differences in pottery decorations and paste types. This is the beginning of larger population groups and the indication of a time of plenty.
Birds Creek Point
Dart points give way to arrow points in the Late Woodland Period. Numerous tools were utilized, including various ground stone and digging tools common for both building dug-out canoes and for horticultural purposes. Archaeological sites dating to this period show evidence of complex trade networks that operated between various complex Native American societies throughout the Americas. In the Fort Johnson area, most groups traveled to the area on seasonal hunting and gathering trips and to quarry lithic material.
Mississippian/Caddoan Period (800 A.D. – 1700 A.D.)
This period is marked by small arrow points and evidence of well-made pottery, various styles of basketry, and various types of houses and villages. The archaeological record is supplemented by secondary informant information concerning the life-ways that existed during this period. Lifestyles were primarily sedentary with some seasonal migration; chiefdoms and extensive trade networks continued. The people of this period are believed to share many cultural traits with those found during the first documented European contact. The Mississippian/Caddoan Period was a time of plenty that evolved into illness of epidemic proportion and continued into the Protohistoric Period.
Late Prehistoric/Protohistoric Period (circa 1600 A.D. – 1800 A.D.)
The Protohistoric Period began with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. These early explorers were the first to write about the indigenous people they encountered in the New World. Generally the Protohistoric Period spanned from around 500 to 200 years ago. The wide range in time is due to the fact that written history began at different times in different places. Around 1527, the Spaniard Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a member of the Panfilo de Narvaez Expedition, wrote about his harrowing travels along the coast of western Louisiana and east Texas. A second Spanish expedition through the area in 1541 led by Hernando DeSoto traveled through the area in search for gold for the Spanish monarchy.
Very little archaeological evidence of Spanish contact exists on Fort Johnson, and it is unknown exactly which Native American tribes occupied the area prior to European contact. However, in Natchitoches and Sabine Parishes, Caddoan-related tribal groups likely utilized territories just north of the Peason Ridge Training area, while south, in Vernon Parish, Choctaw-related tribal groups were said to occupy the area, probably as migrant groups from previous European contact east of the Mississippi River. Other evidence indicates that Attakapa-speaking tribal groups utilized the territory now known as Main Fort.
Fort Johnson commissioned three popular history volumes that tell the story of the area from prehistoric times through the 1990s. The first volume, A Good Home for a Poor Man, by Steven Smith, describes life in Vernon Parish from 1800-1940. This book is an excellent resource for understanding the settlement patterns that formed in the area as well as its history. The second book, 1940: The Last Year Home, an anthology written by various authors, recounts the stories of the families that occupied the land that would become Camp (and later) Fort Johnson and the sacrifices that they made for the good of the country. The book also documents the 1940 Louisiana Maneuvers, which led to the decision by the U.S. government to establish Camp Johnson as a training installation. The third volume, A Soldier’s Place in History, by Sharyn Kane and Richard Keeton, documents the establishment of Camp Johnson, the contributions made by soldiers who trained here to our victory in World War II, and the history of the installation up to and through Desert Storm and the basing of the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Johnson. It is filled with historic photographs and has been a favorite for veterans.
Paleontology – Miocene Epoch (5 – 23 million years before present)
Elephants, camels, rhinos, and giraffes roamed the Fort Johnson area during the Miocene Epoch.
A Rendition of the Miocene Epoch
The Miocene Epoch is a period in the Earth’s history dating to between 5 and 23 million years ago. At that time, the area that was now Fort Johnson was a seashore habitat that was occupied by many species of mammals, birds, reptiles/amphibians, and fish. Fort Johnson possesses several areas where Miocene fossils have been found.