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Pedaling: The rural side

photoI love bicycling, the wind through my hair and the world up close and personal. I moved to rural Arkansas from a city with a growing bicycle and pedestrian program. My bicycle was my preferred mode of transportation. I had options about where to ride — roadways, bicycle paths, and mountain bike trails. I had my preferred bicycle shop. I helped organize events with bicycle rides to concerts and bicycle valets. I was a part of a community that saw the importance of bicycling.

Now I live in a place with very few cyclists. I am the lone person in my area participating in the National Bike Challenge. Most roads don’t have shoulder. Cars  speed by without checking for oncoming traffic. It often feels unsafe. I’ve found routes that avoid the more dangerous roads. I bicycle roads with beautiful scenic views, rural architecture, grazing horses and cows, wildflowers, and wildlife. I’ve even found a few people who like to ride. Despite this, there is still that fear that a log truck will round the corner in the wrong lane or a car will speed passed and collide with another car.  375069_10152854070820083_714035844_n

But I still ride. I travel to nearby cities and participate in group rides. I commute to work and I ride around my community. I believe that people seeing me and my friends on the streets everyday makes a difference. I’ve thought about starting a bicycle club or organizing group rides. But it’s daunting in a place without the infrastructure — without bicycle shops, mechanics or vocal bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees.

I know there is still a lot to do to improve bicycling in urban areas. Yet if we are going to create safer roads, stronger communities, and a bicycle-friendly America, it is important to reach out to rural areas. It would be great if we could create bicycle and pedestrian programs that connect rural towns with larger cities. These programs could provide workshops and training in bicycle mechanics and safety, show people how much fun it is to ride in groups and organize rides, and teach people to be advocates for cycling in their community. The countryside is a beautiful place to ride. It’s important to build the infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists here too. I’m volunteering to help. Anyone want to lend a hand?


I dig Arkansas archeology

I just returned from the Arkansas Archeological Society’s Annual Training Program. It was hot. We worked long hours. I have poison ivy. But when people ask me how I like living in Arkansas, the fact that we have this program is one of the reasons I love being here. The Arkansas Archeological Society in partnership with the Arkansas Archeological Survey holds the training program for two weeks each June. Not only are participants in the field excavating a cool site and participating in laboratory activities, the program offers evening speakers and a number of seminars. It is public archeology at its finest.

Jessica Howe & Matt Comer excavating at the Training Program.

Jessica Howe and Matt Comer excavating during the Annual Training Program.

The program began in 1964 as an annual activity of the Arkansas Archeological Society under the direction of archeologists at the University of Arkansas Museum. Since 1967, the program has been under the supervision of the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s archeologists. The Survey archeologists schedule the field sessions to coordinate with ongoing research. The sessions are held at various sites throughout Arkansas to provide Society members with varied archeological experiences. People travel from all around the country to attend.


Basic Excavations students practicing their profiling skills.

This year we continued the research at 3MN298 in the Ouachita Mountains. The site is multicomponent, with Middle Archaic (circa 6000-5000 B.C.), Woodland (circa 1000-0 B.C.), and Mississippian (circa 1450-1650 A.D.) period occupations. A variety of seminars were available for participants to take including Paleoethnobotany, Ceramics, Site Survey, Basic Lab, and Basic Excavation. I taught Basic Excavation in a Caddoan house site. We had a combination of classroom lectures and field experience. We practiced mapping profiles on a bell at the Oden high school and we excavated a cool feature in which a stone bead fragment, pottery sherds, burnt corn cob, and other plant remains were recovered through flotation.

10406979_10154338280405083_5387713315869614031_nIt was a lot of fun, but it was also challenging as I had to balance difficult fieldwork with teaching for various ages and ability. The class consisted of three adults and three children (9, 12, and 14). There were things I could have done better with additional preparation (and advance knowledge of the age range of my participants). But overall, it was a great week in which I spent a week in the mountains, learned a lot about teaching archeology to the public and about archeology in the Ouachitas, and got to visit with colleagues and meet new people who care about archeology and Arkansas’s rich past. I dig Arkansas archeology.


Celebrating heirlooms


The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival is this weekend! Second to watching local politicians face off in a tomato-eating contest, my favorite part is sampling locally grown heirloom tomatoes. Not only were there the celebrated pink tomatoes that have been grown in Bradley County since the 1920s, but also Purple Cherokee, Red Zebra, Traveler, and Brandywine tomatoes. photo 1

An heirloom is any variety that is at least fifty years old and is open pollinated. Heirlooms often have improved taste and the seeds can also be saved and replanted each year (where hybrid breeds cannot use the same seeds year after year). In the 1980s, there was a major shift in the tomato industry as red tomatoes gained prominence in the commercial market. Today, red tomatoes are the primary tomato being produced, but a number of farmers are still growing the pink tomato and some farms, like Deepwoods Farm, are trying their hand at heirlooms. The flavor of an heirloom tomato does not compare to the mealy red tomatoes that you find on the grocery store shelf.

Tomatoes are not the only heirloom crop being produced. Recentlyphoto(1) I cooked a batch of Anson Mills’ Antebellum Coarse White Grits with crimini mushrooms stuffed with zucchini, kalamata olive and feta. Anson Mills is producing their grits with Carolina Gourdseed White corn which was prized historically for its exceptional flavor and texture and, until recently, it was nearly extinct. The milling company is seeking to reintroduce the diverse and flavorful foodways of the Carolinas.

As their website states, Seedsmen of the 19th century bred for flavor—not for transport, not for visual appeal, not for shelf life, not even for disease resistance. Agriculturists of the period sought to impose the maximal beneficial effect of terroir on their ingredients.

Terrior is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products. Tomatoes have a rich history in southeast Arkansas and Bob Stark and Paul Francis from the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) are conducting research to examine how heirloom tomatoes can help the economic growth of southeastern Arkansas and are working with farmers and other supporters to promote heirloom breeds in Arkansas. The Pink Tomato Festival is a reminder of the importance of the tomato in Arkansans diet. Maybe like the Carolina Gourdseed corn, the name recognition of popular heirloom tomatoes, such as the Arkansas Traveler, will play a significant role in reincorporating heirloom tomatoes into the diets of local Arkansans and reinvigorate tomato farming.


The raw and the cooked: Grilling cucumbers in the summertime

How do we decide which foods should be cooked and which ones should be eaten raw? For some raw tuna is a delicacy and for others it’s unfathomable to eat raw fish. I have always eaten cucumbers raw, usually in a salad. While at Edisto beach recently, my friend Jonathan Sharpe, a foodie and photographer, introduced me to grilled cucumbers. I don’t know why I hadn’t tried this before.

ImageClaude Lévi-Strauss wrote about the “raw” and the “cooked” in his seminal work in 1964. The raw and the cooked signify what is found in nature (the raw) and what is a product of human culture (the cooked). Lévi-Strauss believed that this dichotomy exists in all human societies and that part of what makes us human is our need to reconcile those opposites, or to find a balance between the raw and the cooked. Although anthropologists have critiqued Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist theory as ahistorical and that it doesn’t address the dynamic aspects of culture, what is considered edible varies from one society or religious group to another. But all have binary structures that separate the raw and the cooked, the fresh and the rotten, the moist and the dry or burned.

So as you cultivate those cucumbers this summer maybe you will reconsider yours. Slice the cucumbers at a bias, add a little salt and pepper, brush them lightly with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and put them on the grill!

Grave Matters: A Cemetery Mapping Workshop

10321684_290408097809595_1310456837197585221_oNeed ideas on how to start your cemetery project? Historic cemeteries are irreplaceable landscapes. In Arkansas, many cemeteries are neglected and in need of care. One of the first steps in preserving a historic cemetery is recording and documenting it. The UAM Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program are hosting a one-day workshop on mapping and documenting historic cemeteries. The workshop will be held at Oak Grove Cemetery, an African American cemetery located near Winchester, AR. It will provide hands on experience that you can apply to a cemetery in your area. The 4-hour workshop will focus on:

Mapping skills using a tape measure and compass
Photographing and recording gravestones
Gravestone care
Identification of fraternal headstone symbols
Completing state site forms. What is the National Register? Is funding available? And what are the next steps?

The workshop is limited to 20 people. For additional information and to sign up, email Dr. Jodi A. Barnes at or call 870-460-1290.


Returning to the Taylor House

DSC_0615Did you miss the opportunity to join us for the 2014 Spring Break excavations? Or did you attend and want to work on this cool historic site again? We will be returning to the site in July to complete the excavations around the house.

July 21- August 1 (excluding Sunday, July 27)
We will meet at the site at 8 AM and working until 3 PM

For more information, contact Dr. Jodi Barnes at or 870-460-1290


Kiss my grits: An anthropologists tale of acquiring the taste for a southern favorite

As an English girl, I didn’t grow up eating grits. A traditional breakfast with my mom’s family was boiled eggs and soldiers. My dad is from Missouri and grits were not a part of his diet either. When I returned to South Carolina in 2008 and was reintroduced to grits, they started to grow on me. I rarely order them as a side for my breakfast. The quick grits that most restaurants make don’t appeal to me. They are often lumpy, runny or too something. But I began experimenting with different kinds of grits making shrimp and grits or grilling eggplant and serving it on top of a bed of feta grits.

I also met a number of people who work in mills producing high quality grits in South Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina is the home of a number of mills that are returning to the art of milling corn, rice and other grains. Because of this, I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of grits. As I’m living in the cotton belt these days and rice is the state’s top agricultural export, I know it might be odd that I’m writing a blog about grits, but there is more to it than the grits themselves.

photo 1I recently acquired a number of items from Anson Mills. Some of the grits and grains are for sale to the public and some are specialty items available wholesale. I’ll write more about Anson Mills in my next post. I was most intrigued by the Speckled Whole Grain Yellow Grits. The most common version of grits found in supermarkets is “quick” grits in which the germ and hull have been removed. “Speckled” grits are whole kernel and most of the natural germ and bran are preserved in the cool stone-grinding process, enhancing the nutrition and flavor of the grits.

I returned from South Carolina Thursday night with an empty fridge and a ton of grits. I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest grocery store. The Cash-Saver is close, but it’s produce isn’t the freshest. I came home with crimini mushrooms, spinach and a zucchini. I grabbed a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes from the cabinet, sauteed some garlic, onion and chipotle pepper in a pan, added mushrooms and later spinach. I put this over the slow cooked speckled grits for a delicious meal. The grits were amazing. I loved the creaminess combined with the texture of the different sized grains. photo 3I saved the leftovers for grit cakes!

The decisions we make about what we are going to eat and what we avoid are culturally specific. These decisions are connected to ease of acquisition and preparation. Taste, age, concerns about health, income, and ethnic background all play a role. Looking at the tradition of milling corn provides a way to examine the reintroduction of a cultural practice of preparing foods. On a more personal level, it offers a look at how tastes change and the things we can create with minimal ingredients. Stay tuned for more about grits, foodways, and other happenings in southeast Arkansas.


“Spring Break Dig” at the Taylor House, March 24-30

Detail of the Taylor House near Monticello. This is the site of our upcoming joint AAS-UAM/AAS-SAU Spring Break Dig, March 24-30.

Detail of the Taylor House near Monticello. This is the site of our upcoming joint AAS-UAM/AAS-SAU Spring Break Dig, March 24-30.

The UAM Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey is holding its first “Spring Break Dig”. It is an opportunity for volunteers to get their hands dirty and learn how archeologists excavate at a real site in the region. This March 24-30, the AAS-SAU Research Station will be assisting us at the Taylor House near Monticello. Also known as Hollywood Plantation, excavations in 1991 by Skip Stewart‐Abernathy made it the first plantation site to be excavated in the state. Built in 1845, the Taylor House is a two story, dogtrot style, log house near Bayou Bartholomew in Drew County. The 2014 Spring Dig will focus on the root cellar, the ell, the rear porch of the house and the smokehouse. This research has the potential to provide important information about the antebellum period in southeast Arkansas. Volunteers welcome.

The Taylor House is located on Hwy 138 about 20 miles east of Monticello. For google maps directions:

Contact Dr. Jodi Barnes (AAS-UAM) at or 870‐460‐1290, or Dr. Brandon (AAS-SAU) at for additional information and to sign up.

The Day of Archaeology: Photographs as Sources


Today I participated in the 2013 Day of Archaeology. The Day of Archaeology is large-scale blogging project that demonstrates the wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe. The goal is to help raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology. This is the crossposting of my blog entry. You can find the original at: Photographs as Sources: Documenting a World War II PoW Camp.


Photographs as Sources: Documenting a World War II PoW Camp

A picture is worth a thousand words the old adage goes. For historical archaeologists, photographs can provide important information about the location of buildings and activity areas. They can also provide insight into the everyday lives of past inhabitants. One of my current projects is the mapping and documentation of a World War II Italian Prisoner of War (PoW) camp in Monticello, Arkansas. Camp Monticello opened as a training facility for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1943 and served as a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp for Italians from 1943 to 1946. Photographs of the camp provide important context for archaeological research, but as with any primary source they have to be examined carefully.

Section of a map of the PoW Camp showing Compound 2.

Section of a map of the PoW Camp showing Compound 1.

Camp Monticello consisted of three compounds that housed enlisted men, two compounds that held officers, a hospital and other facilities. The buildings of the camp have mostly disappeared from view. But the archaeological evidence of the PoW camp is relatively widespread and exhibits good preservation as concrete foundations mark the landscape. Archaeologists are increasingly interested in research on prisoner of war camps. Research in Europe, Canada, and the United States has fostered new understandings of PoW camps and their inmates. See for example, Michael Waters, Lone Star Stalag about a German PoW camp in Texas or Harold Mytum and Gilly Carr’s edited volume on prisoners of war. Archaeology at Camp Monticello has the potential to yield new information about the Arkansas’ role in World War II, the lives of women at the camp, and the ways in which the Italian PoWs adapted to confinement and expressed ethnic and cultural identity through daily practice.

Gate to a compound at Camp Monticello.

Gate to a compound at Camp Monticello. Photograph courtesy of the Drew County Historical Museum

I use historic photographs and documents to provide context. Photographs help me understand what the camp looked like, as well as how people may have used the space. But as with any source of information, I have to examine the photographs carefully. Photographs may appear to give an unmediated view of the past, a promise of truth and neutrality that is free of the partiality of written documents (Edwards and Hart 2004). However, this sensation is deceptive, because for each photograph the subject has been selected, framed, and thus partially constructed by the photographer. Plus, the photographs preserved in archival collections tend to have been taken for specific reasons. As Barbara Little points out, documentary history — photographs, deeds, wills, maps — offers us one set of evidence about the past. Archaeology offers us a different kind of evidence. Historical archaeology is a kind of scholarship that challenges our certainties in useful ways.

A makeshift clothesline at Camp Monticello

A makeshift clothesline at Camp Monticello. Photo courtesy of the Drew County Historical Museum.

Photographs are great sources for archaeological research, since archaeology provides a way to test and corroborate the information contained within the photographs. As we head into the field to map and test the site, we hope to find activity areas like the makeshift clothesline that show what everyday life was like for the PoWs at Camp Monticello. Like the Arkansas Archeological Survey – UAM Station Facebook page for updates on this project and other happenings in southeast Arkansas.

Dig into Reading

ImageOver the last two days, we did three programs at regional libraries for the Dig into Reading Summer Reading Program. We read Kate Duke’s book, Archaeologists Dig for Clues, to almost 200 children and adults. In the book, a few kids, including a girl who is worried about getting her sneakers dirty, volunteer at an Archaic period dig. The volunteers learn important lessons from Sophie, the project archaeologist.  They learn that archaeology is a science and archaeologist do not dig for treasure. They appreciate the fact that the small finds are clues to understanding the past and the only way to interpret the clues is meticulous record keeping. I doubt the 3-12 year old kids who attended the programs appreciated all of these valuable lessons. But combined with the show and tell with our discovery box, I think our Dig into Reading presentations garnered new interest in Arkansas archaeology. And I’m willing to bet that the parents in the room learned a few things and they might think it’s okay to get their sneakers dirty now too.


farther along...

Jamie Chad Brandon's Home on the Web... an anthropologist living, researching and teaching in Arkansas News

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