Indiana receives grant to assess prehistoric earthworks

These earthen structures were constructed for ritual and ceremonial purposes by indigenous peoples roughly from 4000 B.C. to 1650 A.D. Despite their size, they are very fragile and highly endangered cultural resources that have been diminished, damaged, and even destroyed by erosion, agricultural practices, looting and development.

Earthworks take a variety of forms, most notably “mounds” that are piles of earth and “enclosures” that are often round or rectangular mounded banks enclosing a large central space. Many enclosures range from 100 to 400 feet across. Earthworks may exist in close proximity to each other in groupings or “complexes,” such as at Angel Mounds State Historic Site near Evansville, or they may appear as solitary features on the landscape.

Earthworks were the first type of archaeological site recognized in Indiana, and they have been studied for nearly 200 years. Information about Indiana’s prehistoric earthworks exists in a variety of forms, including historic sketches, maps, and notes by avocational archaeologists, historic photographs, geological surveys, books, newspaper clippings, aerial photographs, and site forms and technical reports resulting from formal archaeological surveys and investigations.

These records reside in a wide variety of locations, including with various State agencies, libraries and archives, university repositories, and avocational archaeology groups. The main goal of this grant project is to compile as much information as possible about Indiana’s mounds and earthworks in a central research database maintained by the DNR Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. The research database will be available to qualified professional archaeologists.

“Gathering this vast body of archaeological information in one place will aid the study of prehistoric earthworks, increase our understanding and enhance our ability to protect and preserve these irreplaceable cultural resources,” said Robert E. Carter Jr., Indiana’s state historic preservation officer and director of the DNR.

After compiling the information into a database, researchers will prepare a technical report that summarizes the extent of earthworks in each county, prioritizes recommendations for further study, and identifies sites that may be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Researchers will also create a website to educate the public about these resources. The website will promote earthworks on public lands that the public can visit, such as Mounds State Park near Anderson.

This grant from the Preserve America Program was provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

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