Anderson, Indiana: Ceremonial mounds.


For a time, I lived almost next door to Mounds State Park in Anderson, Indiana. Anderson is a bedroom community to Indianapolis, Indiana’s capital. It is also just a bit south of Alexandria, Indiana, where Jamie Poole lives.

The park gets its name from a series of ten ceremonial mounds or earthworks. While earthworks are not henges, henges often include earthworks. As with henges, a mound or series of mounds can be used as a spiritual center.

Earthworks are defined as engineering works created by the processing of parts of the earth’s surface involving quantities of soil or unformed rock. (Wikipedia) Earthworks are created today. Those created in prehistoric times often had spiritual connections and were a center to a community. Earthworks exist all over the world. Both earthworks and henges provide unique insight into an ancient civilization.

Think of a construction site today. A lot is going on. A lot of people are involved. Trades workers come and go for weeks, months, and even years. When they are done, not only is the structure left behind, so are a lot of artifacts. In today’s world, just like in prehistoric times, that includes daily refuse (trash) left by the construction workers. While it might be disgusting to move into a lovely new apartment today and discover hiding in a forgotten corner a man’s lunch remains , the prehistoric version of this is very exciting to archaeologists. The things left behind will be carefully sifted, categorized, and saved—and most likely shipped to a museum or university. The things left behind are equally important as the structure, and can help archaeologists to put together a better image of these distant people. The obvious insight would be what the people ate. Diet reveals a lot about a civilization.

The ten ceremonial mounds in Anderson were built by a prehistoric indigenous people called the Adena who lived in the area around 1000 to 200 BC. These people inhabited what is now known as Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland. What remains of their culture are their substantial earthworks which once numbered into the hundreds. These mounds date to around 160 BC.

These mounds were built by hand using hundreds of thousands of baskets full of specifically selected and graded earth. They were built as part of a burial ritual in which the mounds were built atop a burned mortuary building. These buildings were meant keep and maintain the dead until their final burial was performed. As with many ancient cultures, grave goods were buried with the bodies.

The Great Mound, the largest, is a circular earth enclosure with an internal ditch. The earthworks measure 394 feet across from bank to bank. The 9-foot-tall embankment is 63 feet wide at its base, and the ditch is 10.5 feet deep and 60 feet across at its top. The central platform is 138 feet across and was occupied by a 4-foot-high central mound 30 feet in diameter.

There are other mounds throughout the park. Visitors to the park can walk up to the mounds with little or no barricade. A roundpole fence surrounds one for some protection against a lot of foot traffic. As a child, I found them fun to explore and wonder about. My parents weren’t afraid to explain to a younger me what the mounds were all about. I appreciate that. It encouraged my interest in archaeology.

While the Adena people are long gone, the Mounds have not been forgotten or left to neglect. In more recent history, the Delaware nation used the mounds as a gathering area. One of the more notable members of the Delaware nation is Chief William Anderson, or Kik-tha-we-nund, (born in the 1740s and died in the 1890s) would have spent time here. Jamie Poole retells his story in Resurrection of the Druidess. It’s her maternal family name as a result.

A lesser known fact is that druids or neo-druids continue to use the mounds to this day. On Celtic quarter days, as they do at Stonehenge and other sites, they meet at sunrise for celebration ceremonies. Not much is documented about this as these groups wish to keep a low profile. Certainly an internet search will reveal more details, some very sensational and belong more in the pages of a drugstore tabloid than an archaeological textbook.

Places like this which were the setting for many family picnics lend themselves nicely to the Jamie Poole story arc.

#archaeology #druid #indigenouspeople #earthwork

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