These days it is too easy to forget about the earliest residents in the lands we call home. So much of our lives revolve around the daily activities that we have disconnected ourselves from our history. That is what makes visits to places like the Museum Of Native American History so important. Finding a cultural center that focuses on the various cultures that inhabited the Americas is a welcome treat. We cleared our schedule to allow for time to investigate this FREE museum and we soon found ourselves facing the past in Bentonville, Arkansas.
We want to thank Visit Bentonville and M.O.N.A.H. for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Stepping Back in Time
After an exciting breakfast at a nearby airport, we were anxious to begin exploring the M.O.N.A.H. With Crystal’s Native American heritage, these types of attractions really hit home. We arrived at opening time but paused to allow for some outdoor photo opportunities, before heading indoors. When Crystal spotted the full-scale teepee, she saw a chance to replicate an image from a visit to a similar museum in Wichita, Kansas. Stepping through the front door, we were greeted by the remains of a huge mastodon. These relatives of elephants were a food source for Native Americans until around 10,000 years ago.
An Energized Leader
To help us get a lay of the land, Charlotte Buchanan-Yale, the museum director, took us on a walk through the exhibits. As she ran through the highlights of each of the galleries, her passion for her job became apparent. Clearly, she is one of the biggest cheerleaders for the M.O.N.A.H. and has dedicated lots of her energy to see it flourish. Charlotte explained how the museum started downtown but quickly outgrew its space. Its new home was opened in 2008 and offers more room for the extensive collection of artifacts. A substantial portion of the exhibits come from museum founder, David Bogle’s private collection. She added that these are mingled in with other pieces that have been donated or are on loan from other organizations.
Like most museums, there is a staggering number of displays. To help give a taste of our experience, I am only concentrating on a small portion. There is a lot to be gained from studying the artistic relics from other cultures. These often highlight the social and political temperature of the time period. The Mississippian Period (900A.D. – 1450 A.D.) would have found a wide range of settlements. Everything from small villages to large-scale civilizations would have dotted the landscape. Some of these would have approached 20,000 residents. Culturally, the groups that inhabited the Arkansas region were reaching a pinnacle of artistic pottery design. Examining these amazing creations is like facing the past with fresh eyes.
A Moment in Time
There were three main groups that inhabited the region during this time period. The Caddo, Quapaw, and Mississippians each had their distinct styles, which are reflected in the designs of their pottery. Unfortunately, this period ran up against the arrival of Europeans. Bringing with them diseases that were unfamiliar to the native people, the local tribes were quickly devastated. What remains are examples of some of the finest pottery to come out of this historic time in America’s past. It was interesting to see the number of steps required to produce these pieces that go beyond just being vessels. The Quapaw created many pieces for trade with the Europeans.
As more and more Europeans came to America, the items that they brought for trade expanded. They discovered that the Native Americans had been using beads, as decoration, for centuries. These were primarily made out of bone, shell, and stone. Europeans brought glass beads, which were highly prized by the natives. The smallest of these were called “seed beads” due to their diminutive size. With these, intricate patterns could be achieved, as can be seen in some of the artifacts on display at the M.O.N.A.H.
Facing the Past
We spent a considerable amount of time exploring the museum. The vast number of artifacts cover all of the time periods of known history in the Americas. It is important to note that the museum doesn’t stop at the people who inhabited the Arkansas region. We spotted displays with pieces from Mexico, Central, and South America, as well. It is interesting to compare the artistic designs of these various cultures. For us, pottery is a good way to examine each of their skill levels as they appear in their finished works. It puts in perspective the advancements that had been made by the native people over the centuries. To find yourself facing the past, you will just need to plan your own visit to the M.O.N.A.H.