Probably the greatest-ever American archeological tragedy occurred in 1934-35 in eastern Oklahoma, only about 10 miles across the border from Fort Smith, near a little crossroads now called Spiro.
A thousand years ago, the place was home to a Mississippian people more highly civilized and far more culturally advanced than the present-day clodhopper residents, and over a span of centuries those ancients built a complex of burial mounds comparable to those at Scott on the lower Arkansas.
The Spiro people disappeared about 600 years ago for reasons unknown — the Caddo, Wichita, or, according to the great Frank Schambach formerly of SAU at Magnolia, the Tunica might be their descendants — but those mounds they left behind contained a fabulous treasure of artifacts and artwork discovered and dug up and dispersed first by looters and pot hunters and later by WPA workers in the 1930s.
Although much of the Spiro material eventually found its way piecemeal into museums nationwide and worldwide, the loss is often equated with what would have been lost if grave robbers had similarly plundered and squandered the King Tut treasures.
The story has many Arkansas angles and Arkansas characters and it is admirably told in “Looting Spiro Mounds: An American King Tut’s Tomb,” by David La Vere, a history professor at the University of North Carolina. It’s an original paperback from the University of Oklahoma at Norman, priced at $24.95. A strong candidate for addition to our Essential Library of Arkansas Books.