Heritage, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1988 Page: 15
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Most Caddoans tattooed their faces and
bodies. Men's hairstyles varied from tribe
to tribe; in one a long tuft would grow from
the top of the head, in another they wore a
cut similar to today's mohawk. The women
wore their hair in a knot at the back of the
neck. Both men and women pierced their
ears and noses for rings, and are also reported
to have deliberately shaped the
heads of infants into a conical shape with
The Caddoan religious life was complex
and filled with ritual. They believed in a
powerful creator-god who punished evil
and rewarded good, as well as other less
powerful gods. When the Christian missionaries
came, the Caddoans failed to
understand why they could not just add the
Christian god to their own set of gods.
Many religious ceremonies were held during
the year, especially at the all-important
harvest time. There were also special rituals
for greeting strangers and welcoming
guests. Funerals, too, were important rituals.
Men were buried with their weapons,
and women with their household utensils.
Priests and chiefs were given more elaborate
ceremonies, and buried with more
elaborate grave goods than common
While researching the Caddo Indians
and the problem of pothunting, we had an
opportunity to view the collections at the
Balcones Research Center in Austin. One
afternoon was spent digging through the
extensive filing system of slides, looking
for appropriate visuals for this article. It
was here among the gray filing cabinets
and sheaves of material that we came to
discover that the pots do indeed speak.
When studied in their context, they speak
to the archaeologist about the social structure
and lifeways of the people. They also
speak to us of the humanness of their
designers and creators. We tend to think
of pre-historic Indians as primitive, if not
savage. And yet, do these graceful shapes,
these carefully etched designs seem primitive?
Not at all. The pots were made for
utilitarian purposes, yet their designers
took the time and trouble to create more
than function-they made something
that was pleasing to the eye. We in the
modem era are not the only ones to desire
beauty around us; these ancient people
also found ways to introduce beautiful
The Caddoan religious
life was complex and
filled with ritual.
They believed in a
who punished evil
and rewarded good, as
well as other less
The human practice of disposing of the
dead in a ceremonial way is of great use to
archaeologists. Burials or cremations provide
not only skeletal remains, but often
grave goods which relate to the lives of the
individuals. This information about the
Caddoans could not have been understood
merely from studying items in isolation.
To the archaeologist, everything is
important-not only the artifact or construction,
but the position, direction, and
location relative to other items. Unless
discoveries, whether they consist of a
things into their everyday life. Isn't that
what sets humans above the animals?
We had a conversation at the Capitol
recently with a man involved in preservation
legislation. He voiced strong opinions
on the subject, saying there was not
handful of unusual potsherds, a burial
mound or a complete settlement, can be
monitored and recorded by archaeologists,
irreplaceable evidence will be destroyed
forever, lost from the cultural heritage of
the whole world.
One person determinedly shoveling
dirt from a site in search of pots or arrowpoints
can destroy in one afternoon the
untold story of literally hundreds of years of
Texas history. In some areas, collectors
have used heavy equipment in the search
for artifacts, ruthlessly pushing into meaningless
rubble, centuries-old village sites
and even human burials.
Relic collectors have been called "the
thieves of time" because when they remove
a coin or a pot from its context, it is no
longer a clue to the past. Even in a museum
or collection it is merely an object, no
longer capable of telling us about the
lifeways of long-ago people.
Archaeologists work with mysteries,
riddles and puzzles. Just as they laboriously
and meticulously assemble the broken
shards of a pot to reveal a gracious shape,
intricate design or utilitarian purpose, so
assembling the bits and pieces of information
about a culture found in context reveals
the pattern of culture of a people. The
enough interest on the part of the public
and definitely no money that the state
government would spend to preserve Indian
burial grounds, or at least not enough
to make a difference. After all, he said,
museums have lots of artifacts just sitting
in storage-what are a few pots?
Interestingly, the problem is more
complex than who has the right to dig, and
who has the right to keep what is dug up.
It is also a question of respect for the past,
respect for human burials, whatever their
race, respect for the rights of all Texans to
learn from these sites. While the controversy
rages, with no easy solution in sight,
an estimated 4,500 archaeological sites
continue to be lost every year. Archaeologists
use the example of tearing pages out
of a history book. You still have the book,
but you lose big parts of the story.
We can choose to sit by. The loss will
be great in terms of empirical data and the
works of art themselves, but one question
comes back to us again and again-is
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1988, periodical, 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45436/m1/15/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.