Marion, established 1350 C.E.
Cryptic national registry entry hints at centuries-old native settlement
Tossed in old drawers, tucked away in boxes, or framed and displayed on walls, perhaps hundreds of stone arrowheads are scattered throughout the homes of Marion-area residents who found them or had them handed down by relatives.
Meanwhile, hidden away at the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka and National Registry of Historical Places in Washington is a document the public likely will never see, one that describes a possible origin for the artifacts that predates the founding of Marion by 500 years.
Marion Archeological District is an official National Registry site, but beyond its size being listed as 12,750 acres, there is scant information about it — not even its precise location.
“In this case the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) instructed us to restrict the property,” archivist Jeff Joeckel said. “You can contact their office to see if they have a summary that they can provide to the public.”
State archeologist Bob Hoard confirmed the existence of the district, which includes an unspecified number of sites where recovered artifacts predate tribes encountered by early settlers such as the Kaw and Osage by hundreds of years.
“That in my mind is what we would call ancestral Wichita,” Hoard said. “I would date them from 1350 to 1700 C.E. If you find an arrow point, maybe the size of your thumbnail, that’s mostly triangular but has notches on the side, that’s probably from this period. If they’re just triangular without notches, they could be later.”
The points were used for hunting bison, deer, and small animals, Hoard said.
Specifics about the boundaries of district and locations of sites included in it are restricted to prevent casual explorers from disturbing the sites, Hoard said.
However, the concentration of discoveries led archeologists to believe that this area was home to an ancestral Wichita settlement, similar to ones found in Rice County and near Arkansas City.
“I’m very reluctant to speculate about population size,” Hoard said. “There’s been a lot less work done there than other areas.”
A surprising find in ancestral Wichita artifacts suggested a distant connection with New Mexico.
“We find a fair amount of obsidian that does not occur in Kansas,” Hoard said. “We can use x-ray fluorescence to determine the source of that. Most, possibly all, of it comes from the vicinity of Taos.”
Early Spanish explorers left their mark, too, Hoard said. Bits of Spanish chain mail have been found in some Rice County sites.
Hoard offered general descriptions of what life was like for ancestral Wichita communities.
“Before the Spanish came, these people were raising corn or maize in quantities large enough to store in pits over the winter,” he said. “They were dedicated bison hunters. They made hoes out of bison shoulder blades. They made houses constructed of grass. Some Spanish accounts talk about hundreds if not thousands of houses.”
Advanced techniques such as incorporating crushed shells into clay resulted in pottery that was thin, strong, and increasingly larger and more heat-resistant, Hoard said.
The ancestral Wichita archeological record contains “very little evidence” after 1700, Hoard said. The Wichita appear to have migrated to Arkansas City and then south and west into Oklahoma.
Much of what was discovered about Marion’s ancestral Wichita settlement came from discoveries by private individuals, Hoard said. He encouraged people to contact the historical society when they find artifacts that may contribute to the record.
“A good proportion of the archeological sites we have were submitted by citizens at large,” he said. “It doesn’t give anyone permission to enter your site. It’s only disclosed to professional archeologists.”
Hoard said that even without visiting a site, basic information about what was found can lead to better understanding of native cultures.