Faulkner County Survey Project (FCSP)

Faulkner County is located in the center of Arkansas and is host to a wealth of historical and archaeological resources. The abundance of these resources and the history of land use in the area are directly related to the location of the county within a diverse ecotone that transitions between four distinct and highly productive biomes in the region. The Arkansas River floodplain dominates the landscape in the southwestern portion of the county. To the north, rolling uplands slowly expand into the more northerly Ozark Mountain region. Portions of the Ouachita Mountains are present to the south as elevated bluffs, ridges, and eroded landforms. To the east are the transitional beginnings of the broad Mississippi Alluvial Plain that characterizes much of eastern Arkansas.

The boundaries of what we know today as Faulkner County were created from parts of Conway and Pulaski counties in 1873, 37 years after Arkansas Territory became a state. The county is named after Colonel Sanford ‘Sandy’ Faulkner who was the composer of “The Arkansas Traveler”. Today, it is the fifth most populous county in the state. In the context of this research, it is important to highlight the rate of growth in the county over the last several years. The 2020 census lists the county population at 125,000, with over 50% of that number living in the largest city, Conway. Population growth has averaged just under 40% between censuses and 30% overall growth since the 1970 census. Faulkner County is growing and growth will likely continue at the current rates.

With the growth in central Arkansas in mind, a long-term collaborative project between researchers at the University of Central Arkansas and the Faulkner County Museum is underway to map, evaluate, and document historical and archaeological resources in Faulkner County. Broadly speaking, the project seeks to define the spatial and temporal aspects of the historical landscape of the county. The project is organized into three themes or applications: site administration and management, pedagogy and public archaeology, and research.

Site Administration and Management
The first them is related to site administration and management. What types of historic and prehistoric sites are in the county and how long ago were they recorded and/or visited? Important to this, and in prioritizing sites, is an understanding of potential site impacts and in documenting the state of those sites that have already been impacted by growth. For project management purposes, the county is organized into nine areas, arbitrarily designated using highways as area boundaries. A preliminary sorting based on site cultural affiliation classification in the Arkansas Archeological Survey AMASDA system reveals that sites contain both prehistoric and historic components and are widely distributed in the county. The archaeological and historical resources in Faulkner County span a significant time depth from a variety of cultures and occupational groups.

Pedagogy and Public Archaeology
The second theme is related to pedagogy and public archaeology. The Faulkner County Museum has an established relationship with both the University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College and a series of collaborative efforts integrating history students, service-learning teaching activities, and internships. Using this experience as a model, this project allows for a program in public archaeology using anthropology students from UCA. Student-centered public archaeology is largely accomplished through the UCA course, Field Archaeology where a portion of the course utilizes pedagogy to facilitate hands-on learning with archaeological materials in the field and lab and teaching and learning strategy integrating community service with instruction and student reflection. The goal is to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

The third theme is related to scholarly research. The project is interested in questions such as, how and why has the Faulkner County cultural landscape changed over time? What is the nature of land use throughout the expanse of time in which we have archaeological data? How are changes in land use influenced intra-regionally or inter-regionally? As the project is ongoing, milestones are be assessed and re-evaluated throughout the duration. Goals include access to sites through communication with community landowners, determine if sites are listed as an archaeological site, and evaluate stability and impact. Longer-term goals are focused on understanding landscape change over time and develop a better understanding of site preservation and management within Faulkner County.