On preserving the vestiges of Indiana history

Today, we’ll offer some history commentary, not about Independence Day, but about the pre-historic Anderson earthworks, courtesy of Andrea Neal, syndicated columnist writing on behalf of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.  Below is her piece which ran in the Northwest Indiana Times.


ANDREA NEAL: Mounds leave evidence of indigenous Hoosiers

By Andrea Neal

Indiana’s name means “Land of the Indians.” A trip to MoundsState Park in Anderson reminds us why.

Among the first inhabitants of our state were the Adena, a hunting and gathering people that lived in east central Indiana beginning around 1,000 BC. They left behind earthen monuments — deep ditches surrounded by embankments — that give clues to a complex society that understood astronomical events and seasonal calendars and based religious celebrations around them.

Visitors to MoundsState Park go to camp, hike, fish or swim. While there, most stand in awe at the 10 mounds and earthworks ranging from a few inches to several feet high that have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.

“The earthworks at Mounds State Park are some of the best protected of any in the state, and many improvements in protection have been instituted over the years,” says the archeologist Donald Cochran, professor emeritus at Ball State University, who with a colleague, Beth McCord, conducted much of the recent research there.

“It is only one of five large earthwork complexes in east central Indiana. These five large sites as well as many mounds and other enclosures make up a cultural landscape that is unique in Indiana,” Cochran noted.

Although little is known about the daily lives of the Adena, their mounds and artifacts gave scholars enough data to generalize about these early Hoosiers. They were part of the woodland tradition that relied on hunting, fishing, berry-picking and cultivation of maize. They made ceramic pots and traded with other native peoples. When the Adena left they were replaced by the Hopewell, who used the mounds, and constructed more, for burial and ritual purposes. More than 300 of their ancient earthworks could once be found in east central Indiana, but today fewer than 100 remain.

Indiana is fortunate that Frederick Bronnenberg was the first private-property owner of the land that is now MoundsState Park. A native of Germany who immigrated to the United States around 1800, Bronnenberg protected the mounds from plowing and vandals. His son, Frederick Jr., did the same and “extolled their virtue as a community point of interest and destination,” according to state park documents.

The area functioned from 1897 to 1929 as an amusement park, which marketed the mounds as a tourist attraction. The park shut down because of lagging attendance during the Great Depression and was sold to the Madison County Historical Society, which transferred ownership to the state in 1930, thus protecting the mounds from commercial and agricultural development — though not from public use or natural erosion.

State officials hope to implement more protective strategies in coming years. Their commitment is welcome and essential if Hoosiers are to preserve this vestige of prehistoric Indiana for future generations.

Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. This column represents the writer’s opinion. Readers can write her at aneal@inpolicy.org or in care of The Times.


Closely related to Ms. Neal’s final paragraph on preservation are the insightful observations of Paul Gruchow re preserving the fabric of our natural history —

“But we will not come to any deep understanding of our place in nature except as we delve into its basic documents, and these documents are our wild places.  Decimating a natural environment is, in this sense, exactly like burning all the copies of some book essential to the history of our culture.  And when we destroy some entire ecosystem, as we have done with our prairies, for example, it is like eliminating whole sections of our libraries.  Learning is one property that must be acquired individually.  It cannot be bought or sold on the marketplace, or exercised by proxy, or transferred from one life into another by last testament.  Either you have acquired it for yourself, at considerable trouble and pain and time, or you will not have it.  (It is because it comes at such a dear price that it yields ultimately, so much joy.)  And a sense of one’s standing in the natural world is not instinctive, not automatic, and only in the most general way, culturally transmitted.  In any usable degree it is, like all learning, a personal acquisition, arrived at only by becoming acquainted with the basic texts, with wild places.”      

Paul Gruchow        The Necessity of Empty Places.


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