All Things Historical… From The Gosport History Museum
Around 20,000 to 500 BC, prehistoric Indians crossed the Bering Straight and many came into what is now Indiana. They settled here around 7000 BC. The most notable were the Hopewell Indians and the Middle Mississippi Indians. These were the mound builders. They were the state’s earliest inhabitants, living along the rivers and in the Indiana bottomlands.
The Angel Mounds State Historic Site in Evansville is a fine example of the Mississippian Mound builders. They were one of the first people to build permanent communities with thousands of residents. The population at Angel Mounds was around 3,000 and was the largest settlement in Indiana. Around the middle of the 15th century Angel Mounds was abandoned and the ‘why’ remains a mystery to this day.
The builders migrated about 30 miles to the west and continued to live on small farms along the Ohio River until the 1600s. But they were gone before the appearance of the Europeans.
In Henry County, Indian skeletons were discovered while workman were constructing a turnpike. Some of the skeletons were of giant people. In Delaware County in the 1920s, in a mound of considerable proportions, more skeletons of gigantic size were found. In Randolph County, on the bank of a creek bed, construction workers excavated many human bones, so many they were said to have been hauled away by wagon loads. The bones again were of a giant race of people here in Indiana.
The Gosport area was a vital habitat for prehistoric mound builders. There were many mounds in this area and are probably still here but perhaps unrecognized in our more modern terrain. Just to the southwest of Gosport are three large mounds and another one about a mile to the east. Many such mounds in this area, once opened were found to contain pottery and stone artifacts as well as many human bones.
Some of the mounds show evidence of fire and burnt bones, which may have been human sacrifices. Other mounds have river shells buried inside. On and around the Gosport mounds were found flint weapons and many were broken as if from battles fought on the mounds themselves.
In the older mounds are human bones that are bent as if the people suffered from heavy burdens, carrying large loads and from hard labor, perhaps from farming A second race of mound builders are found in the mounds that came later. These people had straight bones and were most likely hunters and even warriors. If you look across White River from Gosport, especially in the winter when the foliage is gone, you can still see evidence of these mounds appearing as small hills in the distance. The best place to look for mounds is along the river and streams and in the bottomlands
The Europeans and the French came to Indiana in the late 17th century. The French explorer, La Salle, arrived in the area around 1679. It was then known as The Ohio Country. At this time the land was inhabited by the Miami, Potawatamie and Delaware Indians. Many originally believed that these Indian tribes were not the mound builders, but more research has determine that the Mound Builders were in fact the Native Americans.
The mounds of Indiana were built over a long period of time. Farming and hunting societies would build mounds as funerary monuments. Others were for religious structures like temple platforms. The burial mounds seem to have come first, around 100 BC to 1000 AD. Temple mounds during the Mississippian period came afindiana ter 1000 AD.
Prehistoric earthworks were not only mounds, but also cones and ditches. They were divided into four cultures: The Shell Culture around 400 to 500 AD, The Adena Culture around 700 to 800 A.D., The Hopewell Culture beginning 800 to 900 A.D., and the Middle- Mississippi Culture from 1000 to 1200 AD. The Indians who lived in the area after the Mound Builders became a part of an amazing civilization with religious influence reaching into South America. There was a trail leading from South and Central America where natives traveled to the land of the Mound Builders. Many of the Indiana earthworks had been built as religious sites and were actually aligned with celestial bodies.
After the Mound Builders, this part of Indiana was uninhabited and used mostly by hunting tribes passing through. Indians would not live in much of southern Indiana because of stories of hairy, cannibalistic men dwelling in caves along the streams and rivers. Even very early white settlers who entered southern Indiana in the latter part of the 12th century where reported to have been killed by mysterious wild men.
Some mounds in Indiana today can be found in Mounds State Park near Anderson, and the Angel Mounds state historic site near Evansville in southern Indiana. On your next vacation, why not travel into Indiana’s prehistoric past and visit these fascination places?
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