Native Village
Youth and Education news
 Volume 1, February 2011

The Prehistoric Treasure In The Fields Of Indiana
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Indiana: In 1988, road builders in Mt. Vernon damaged an ancient burial mound. A treasure trove of silver and copper poured from the ground.  Archaeologists believed the treasure belonged to the Hopewell Tradition

But there was a unique difference: figurines discovered there had faces with slanted eyes, which is not a Hopewell feature. Many believe these figurines connect Indiana and Central or South America.

"There's a number of mounds here probably 20, maybe even more mounds, earthen architectural features that were built for different purposes," like ceremonies or burial, said Michele Greenan, an archaeologist and curator at the Indiana State Museum. "What you're seeing here is a complex of earthen structures that were very purposefully and very specifically built along this cultural landscape."

The fields are named the Mann Hopewell Site after the farmer who once owned the 500 acres. The Hopewell was not a tribe, but more a way of life that thrived in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. between 100 - 500 A.D. Two of site's earthen structures are among the biggest mounds built anywhere by the Hopewell.

"It's like Vegas ... for archaeologists," says Mike Linderman, who manages historic sites in western Indiana. He says the Mann Hopewell Site is bigger than the famous Hopewell sites in Ohio and is filled with even more exotic materials, like grizzly bear incisor teeth and obsidian glass from Wyoming's Yellowstone Valley,

"Grizzly bears obviously are not from Indiana, never have been," Linderman says. "There's a theory out there now that instead of being trade items, these items [were] actually being collected by the people from Mann Site on rite-of-passage trips they [were] taking out to the West. You know, it's something big if you've killed a grizzly bear and you can bring its teeth back to Indiana."

Jaguars and panthers aren't from Indiana, either, but they show up at the Mann Hopewell Site as beautifully detailed carvings. When put together with clay figurines that have slanted eyes, Linderman says it might prove a connection between Indiana and Central or South America.

And that just scratches the surface. In 2006, Staffan Peterson did the archaeological version of an MRI scan on 100 acres at Mann. When his equipment detected an archaeological feature, a dot showed up on a map.

"Every day, we'd download our data and our jaws would drop," Peterson says. "It was kind of like buckshot, there were so many. And we were able to map out upwards of 8,000 archaeological features."

Two of the most notable features are what Peterson calls "wood henges" -- like Stonehenge, but made of wooden posts -- which he believes may be one of a kind in the U.S.

But an even more remarkable discovery could rewrite history books: scientists have found evidence of lead smelting, a practice first seen in North America when the French arrived 1,000 years after the Hopewell tradition died out.

Lead smelting is among the many questions archaeologists hope to answer in upcoming digs.

"It's a sleeping giant," says museum curator Greenan, "and it's going to take its place as one of the most important archaeological sites in North America."


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