Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Fourche Maline Focus

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The Fourche Maline Focus defined preceramic and ceramic occupations at archaeological sites excavated by Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews during the 1940s in the Wister Lake area along the Poteau River and Fourche Maline Creek in eastern Oklahoma. These sites are often described as dark, accretional midden mounds. In 1980 the taxonomic term Fourche Maline Phase was introduced to characterize the ceramic occupations at these sites, and the preceramic zones were placed into the Wister Phase. At about the same time the term Fourche Maline culture was beginning to be used to discuss similar sites elsewhere in the trans-Mississippi South, especially in southwestern Arkansas. Radiocarbon tests indicate a beginning date of around A.D. 1 for the focus, but there is evidence that it may begin as early as 300 B.C. Ending dates are considered to be around A.D. 700 to A.D. 800. This places the Fourche Maline well within the Woodland period.

The dominant tool forms were thick, grog-and-grit-tempered pottery (Williams Plain), contracting stemmed points (Gary), and double-bitted stone axes. There also occurred some expanding of stemmed dart points associated with the early part of the phase. Many tool forms are a continuation of tools appearing first in the Wister Phase. Small, corner-notched projectile points (Scallorn), reflecting the advent of the bow and arrow, appeared circa A.D. 600. Other tools included bone implements such as hairpins, awls, fishhooks, and antler flakers and handles. Shell items, especially beads, were also present. Manos, grinding stones, cupstones, and hammerstones were common, and chipped- and ground-stone hoes suggest forest clearing and digging activities.

The groups based subsistence on hunting and gathering. They utilized white-tailed deer, turkey, squirrel, fox, turtle, birds, fish and shellfish. They also gathered plant materials such as hickory nuts, acorns, persimmons, honey locust beans, grapes, and sumac.

There is no direct evidence of houses, and post-mold patterns at most midden sites were irregular. Light-frame structures and three-sided structures, possibly arbors, may have been used. Burned rock scatters, likely used for plant processing, were common, and shallow pits also have been found. Hearths, ash/clay concentrations, and scattered post molds may relate to occupational surfaces.

No formal cemeteries have been identified, but flexed burials of single individuals were common in the dark midden mounds. However, multiple burials and a low percentage of cremations also occurred. Burial goods consisted of utilitarian tools reflecting personal items buried at the time of interment. Exotic goods such as marine shell gorgets and beads were often found with children and infants. In some cases dog burials were associated with human burials. Archaeologists calculate the average life expectancy to about twenty-six years and the average height for males at about five feet, six inches and for females, five feet, three inches. Dietary deficiencies and ailments such as arthritis affected these populations. Evidence in the form of projectile points embedded in bone also indicates violence as a cause of death.

Even though the Fourche Maline was originally defined for sites in the Wister Valley, there is evidence that similar occupations covered a good part of the Ouachita Mountains and eastern Oklahoma. The most common site type was the dark midden mound, but special-purpose and seasonal camps also occurred in bottomland and upland settings, and the populations seem to have been dispersed on a seasonal basis. Even though scholars do not know whether these were resident populations, these early peoples influenced later developments in the Arkansas and Red river valleys and throughout eastern Oklahoma.

Rain Vehik


J. H. Althschul, Bug Hill: Excavation of a Multi-Component Midden Mound in the Jackfork Valley, Southeast Oklahoma, World Research Report of Investigation No. 81-1 (Pollock, La.: N.p., 1983).

Robert E. Bell, "Fourche Maline: An Archaeological Manifestation in Eastern Oklahoma," Louisiana Archaeology 6 (1980).

Robert E. Bell, ed., Prehistory of Oklahoma (Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press, 1984).

Robert Bell and David A. Baerreis, "A Survey of Oklahoma Archaeology," Bulletin of the Texas Archaeological and Paleontological Society 22 (1951).

Jerry R. Galm, The Archaeology of the Curtis Lake Site (34LF-5A), LeFlore County, Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center Research Series 2 (Norman: University of Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center, 1978).

Rain Vehik, The Archaeology of the Bug Hill Site, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center Research Series 7 (Norman: University of Oklahoma, Archaeological Research and Management Center, 1982).

Browse By Topic

Precontact Era


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Rain Vehik, “Fourche Maline Focus,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=FO055.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.