MIAMI, Okla. (AP) _ An archaeological dig in southeastern Arkansas could lead to the discovery of a colonial-era village where members of the Quapaw Tribe first encountered French explorers.
The French explorers were the first Europeans to travel west of the Mississippi River in 1686.
The tribe, which once traveled over much of what is now Arkansas and parts of Missouri and Oklahoma, has its headquarters in northeastern Oklahoma.
Carrie V. Wilson, a Quapaw who has led efforts to uncover the village, said it could be Osotouy, the Arkansas Post where Henry de Tonti dropped six Frenchmen to establish a presence in the upper Mississippi.
``This could be one of the first sites where Native Americans mixed with Europeans,'' said Tom Green, an archaeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. ``Finding it would be a very important archaeological discovery.''
Using radar, archaeologists believe they may have found structures that resemble the longhouses of the Quapaw tribes.
``We've seen round shapes and long straight lines that we don't believe would occur naturally,'' Green said. ``We think we're seeing the walls of houses and we're hoping to find longhouses that Quapaw people lived in back then.''
Green said archeologists have found artifacts at the site that could be Indian items such as pounded-stone arrow points and scrapers, and European items such as ceramic pots and plates and fragments of iron-smithing tools.
The dig site at Wallace Bottom is south of Gillett, Ark., on the north bank of the Arkansas River. The dig began Saturday and will continue through March 2.
The effort is being supported by a $50,000 federal grant obtained by the Quapaw Tribe.
Archaeologists have explored the area since the late 1880s, excavating a Quapaw cemetery in the early 1900s, but didn't uncover the site they are now investigating until 1998, said John House, a University of Arkansas archaeologist who is part of the dig that includes volunteers from the tribe as well as the Arkansas Archaeological Society.
The site may have been buried as the Arkansas River changed course during the last three centuries, House said.