Friday, December 16, 2016

Mounds State Park: Anderson Indiana


Early one morning we enjoyed walking the trails through the mounds area at the beautiful Mounds State Park, just outside of Anderson, Ind.    

The Adena tribe, the earliest Native Americans to construct  mounds here, were  primarily hunter-gatherers, but they also planted crops such as squash, gourds, sunflowers and maize. 

At the large Great Mound, the centerpiece created about 160 BC,  plaques explain its astronomical alignment related to learning the timing of the solstices and equinoxes.  

The Giant Mound has astronomical alignments to time solstices and equinoxes

The mounds were community gathering centers where religious rituals were performed and burials took place. A mound was usually built as part of a burial ritual, in which the earth of the mound was piled immediately atop the ashes of a burned mortuary building. In honor of the dead, tools, weapons, pottery and other clay items were involved with the burning and were buried with the dead.

 Some sources suggest that the Hopewell culture replaced the Adena around 100  BC.  Kelly, a state park ranger who is an archeologist, told us that others are  still working to understand the relationship between the Adena and Hopewell.   At this point they were not sure whether they were continuous or separate

 The Hopewell tribe continued the tradition of creating mounds, but were more sophisticated than the Adena in making objects. The Hopewell disappeared around 500 AD, with no clear explanation of what happened to them

They were both agriculturists and hunter-gatherers, but what was so remarkable was their trading range around the continent.

They had goods such as bear teeth and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, mica from the Carolinas, seashells from the Gulf of Mexico, and copper from the upper Great Lakes.  Since they had no form of transportation but their feet, it meant some of them had to do a tremendous amount of walking. 

This also suggests that there was a great exchange of knowledge between the different Native American tribes and this allowed for some real advances in living styles as the knowledge from different cultures were exchanged.

The Adena were skilled potters and sculptors, making pottery and small effigy sculptures out of clay and stone, and bowls and other household utensils from wood and stone. The Hopewell stone and clay items had a refinement that indicated their sculptors and potters were more skilled than the Adena.

We had previously been impressed by how many other Indian tribes in what is now the United States had constructed mounds copying those of   the Adena-Hopewell tribes. The largest we have visited are the Cahokia Mounds outside of St. Louis, but we have visited mounds in Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and now Indiana.

At one point when Europeans first arrived in America there may have been thousands of mounds, but many mounds have been leveled for farm land or raided for artifacts.  This area was saved from destruction by the Bronnenberg family, who preserved the area for future generations.  Their two-story brick farmhouse is open for visitors. 

We were impressed with the scenery along the wooden boardwalk that took us around the park and back to the visitor’s center that has a small but well-chosen set of displays on the wild animal and plant life of the area.

 Kelly told us the park had been started in 1930, but the visitor’s center and display were not added until the 1990s.  She took us into the glassed viewing room, overlooking a rich range of plants and scenery seated us on comfortable couches and opened herself to questions.

A variety of bird houses were visible, some of which she said were for bats, who use the local trees for their resting place.  Kelly said the bats are endangered and steps are being taken to preserve them. Humming birds were just returning to the area when we visited in the spring--an especially good time to enjoy the setting and learn some history.

A walking trail goes through the mounds area

A viewing room in the visitor's center lets you watch different birds and bats in the area

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Living History Museums

Living History Museums: An Overview

Throughout the U.S. my wife Carla and I have been able to visit  a bountiful number of museums and historical sites  that capture  the history of our country, finding them engaging and educational experiences.

   For sixty-four years we have traveled extensively, even more often as we are now both retired psychologists.   For the past  nineteen years I has written a weekly Venture Bound travel column for the Columbia Daily Tribune.  For the last ten years Carla has been co-author.

One of the benefits of this kind of traveling is that adults along with children (we have four) learn more about our history--the struggles and the progress we have made to reach this point in history-- and also to appreciate in many ways how fortunate we are in living at this time. 

At Conner Prairie we interacted with authentic member of the Delaware tribe who spoke the original Delaware language.

  The staff at living history  museums strive for authenticity as they drop us back into the past.  Many of the museums are original buildings, often transported in from around the state at considerable expense.  They are filled with original furniture and tools, and if more artifacts are needed, they are made on the grounds using original techniques.  Most living history museums limit themselves to one period in history. 

 We are impressed by the variety in the approaches taken by the staffs to entertain and teach us.  We especially enjoy talking with re-enactors who take on the characteristics and dress of someone from the past and discuss with us what their lives were like--what they were proud of, what problems they were struggling with, and what dishes, tools,  and equipment they used.

  We enjoyed seeing how the children were treated, for example, the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Indiana, where children can drop back to the 1830s to dip candles, play with hoops, and get a chance to pump an old fashioned lathe to help a wood worker make table legs.   Children can pet the animals, the only jarring feature from the future was the hand sanitizer to use after the petting.

In Old Bedford, Pennsylvania, we went back to the 1820s where we discussed burial customs with the cabinet maker, watched the pharmacist mix his meds for the day and attended a church service.  

Most of the  museums focus on a particular time period.  There is a great deal of interest among over 50-year-olds in studying their family history. They are able to get a very clear picture of how those  ancestors lived and the kind of problems they faced.

We were delighted to talk to the costumed re-enactors  from different periods of time at the American Frontier Culture in Staunton, Virginia.  Farm buildings had been brought in from five foreign countries and showed how their cultures and way of life converged to create an American farm of the 1850s. 

Eight state history museums or sites, on the other hand,  presented a broad view of the states' histories using a variety of modern techniques for educating and entertaining  visitors. Most states have magnificent displays of original artifacts often in striking new buildings that also include the states' historical archives.

At various sites we saw costumed manikins who could talk, listened to audio tours, watched short movies that captured real events in the state's history, and saw newspaper clippings, posters, and even an occasional holograph that made the figures more real than 3D.

For more recent history we are now presented with oral recordings and movies made since the twenties that inform us about life in the depression, laborers revolting against management and the problems with race relations. 

 Most state history museums take us back in time to at least the time of Native Americans, and some like the Indiana State History Museum go back in time to the development of coal and a museum  in Arizona goes back to the age of the dinosaur. 

Other history museums took us to a specific critical event in our history such as the development of the atomic bomb at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Brown vs. the  Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas.  These also use a multitude of devices and methods to bring us into a sense of the past so we leave feeling we really understand what happened there.

Some like BitterSweet Cabin Village in Kentucky and The Pioneer Women Museum in Oklahoma confine themselves to a narrow range of history. The John Deere Museum in Illinois and the McCormick Farm in Virginia deal with a specific inventions that changed the nature of agriculture in America.

Making History Real for Children

Experiences with people and life from the past will broaden a child's ability to understand the world.  Classroom experiences are frequent in living history museums, but they are often brief being no more than an hour of two of what the classrooms were like in the past.

 One of the best we've seen was in Oklahoma where the children came for the day, dressed, as their teachers did, in turn of the century clothes, with a home-packed lunch.  Boys were seated on one side of the room and the girls on the other.  They spent the whole day in class learning the subject matter of the time with the teacher using the tools and methods of the time.

At other places we have met with re-enactors who stayed in role, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Andrew Johnson and many common people who could tell us about their time period.

 For these contacts the children need some preparation so they know who they are dealing with and can ask the appropriate questions.  It helps if these experiences are intergraded into their classroom studies.  Actually getting involved and doing something is better than watching someone do it, and watching someone do something is better than reading about it. 

We have visited one excellent  site where children lived for five or six days to get an immersion experience in what life was like for their ancestors, but we will probably talk about that in another book.

We have been very pleased about what we have learned by traveling to living history museums and historical sites.

At Conner Prairie we watched a re-enactor, make moccasins. As we admired the size and quality of a beaver skin he was working with, he explained the process the Native Americans used to prepare it.

At the Ark Encounter a manikin Noah tells the visitor about his work.

Monday, December 5, 2016

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville was one of those experiences that filled us with awe at the quality of the historical artifacts and offbeat displays that often elicited smiles. 

Early hominids

We got both a bit of shock and a chuckle at the exhibition, Human Origins: Searching for Our Fossil Ancestors, where on a large TV screen we saw the face of a primitive ape- like creature slowly evolve into that of a modern human.


           Under the TV screen was a large globe where fiber optic lights pinpoint the places where the fossils have been found that support the reconstruction of our origins and how over the last two million years humans have spread out of Africa to populate the rest of the world.

 Some scientists in the overview noted that hominids-- our ancestors--existed six million years ago.  

One impactful display had  on one side casts of archaic homo sapiens skulls and a skeleton.  On the other side were the skeleton of the one-and half-million-year-old Turkana Boy and the three- million-year-old skeleton of Lucy.

A reconstructed portion of the 17,000-year-old cave painting at Lascaux, France on the ceiling of the exhibition room with its colorful animals and symbols added to drama of our experience.

We were also charmed by the Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee exhibition that is based on 65 years of research by archaeologists from the University of Tennessee as they trace 15,000 years of Native American life in this area.  What most impressed us were the five murals arranged around the 3,200-square-foot gallery that showed the different cultural periods giving us touching views of their  lives.

Native people were here in the age of mammoths

 It was also fun to see the displays built into the floor of an earth oven and fragments of tools of the time.  We also saw large displays of flint objects we had never heard of before.  One display noted:  "This rich collection of ceremonial artistry is known worldwide as the Duck River Cache. The swords, maces, hooks and discs were not used as weapons, but as symbols of leadership or authority, perhaps ceremonially as seen in the gorget in this case."

We were surprised to find a small Ancient Egypt exhibit that  included a coffin that had belonged to a priestess and some animal mummies.  In one of the cases were hair combs, shoes and writing implements, and on a wall nearby a copy of the Rosetta Stone.

More expected in a museum in Tennessee was the exhibition of the Civil War in Knoxville that focuses its on the Battle of Fort Sanders and East Tennessee with artifacts provided by families in the area and items excavated from the battlefield.

Other displays covered Decorative Arts from Around the World, and Freshwater Mussels.  The museum is in a new building and while small by museum standards it compactness lends charm to the varigated exhibits. 

Parking and entrance are free, and the day we were there very few visitors joined us.  As usual for museums of this type we saw it has great potential as a learning experience for grade school children as well as adults.

The museum is accredited by American Association of Museums and an affiliate  of the Smithsonian  Institution.   

Stone tools of the period served many uses

Farm Girl

The Farm Girl

On a recent visit to my daughter, Stephanie Stegall, in Chattanooga, Tenn., I  found myself unusually relaxed and having flashbacks to my childhood.  What could be causing this unusual reaction? 

The settings seemed very different, at least superficially. My childhood house was small, maybe 800 square feet.  My daughter's house is 4,200 square feet if you don't count the basement area where she has set up a gym. We had a hand pump for water, and I was five before we got electricity.  At my daughters home we had all of the modern conveniences.

Sitting on the back porch watching the cows graze, it hit me.  My daughter, despite being extremely busy as a pediatrician, spent much of her time at home doing what my mother did as a farm wife.   The similarities crowded in on me.  It was obvious, coming here to visit was a "going home" experience.

Watching the cows brought back memories of childhood.

The cows I was watching were beef cattle, the one at home was our milk cow, but a cow never the less. 

Stephanie has a chicken coup and a fenced in area her husband had built for her where she had a dozen chickens of three breeds, who lay different colored eggs that she collected regularly from their nests 

As a child I collected eggs from a much larger coop that had several dozen chickens, mostly leghorns with a few Rhode Island reds.

When I saw my daughter watering the variety of plants and flowers around the house, she was using a fancy hose that sent out a variety of sprays. My mother used a pail with water from the pump for the same purpose.

And a garden? Ours was large with enough food to can for the winter; my daughter's was small with just enough variety to be used as the new vegetables came in.  By now the similarities were washing over me.

Animals?  At home we always had a cat, dog, canary, and a small bowl of fish.  Here I see three dogs, two cats, and a large aquarium of multicolored fish.

 Stephanie's house sits on 65 acres with a great view with deer, coyotes, and a multitude of birds  We sat next to open country with wild animals as part of our scenery.

Why had it taken so long for me to make the connection?  I guess most of us don't usually think of visiting a daughter as a going home experience; it is when she visits you that she should be having a going home experience and having flashbacks into her childhood.

I'm a strong believer that certain behaviors run in families and see certain talents that showed up in aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Artistic and musical talent are common, storytelling is frequent, but the farm wife had been so common because that's what women did, that I had not considered it to have any kind of genetic base. Yet here was my daughter replicating her grandmother's behavior, a woman she had never met.          

Stephanie had shown a need to do this as a child, but received inadequate training from me.  We tried gardening and raised the smallest tomatoes and corn I had ever seen.  Our fish tank was a death sentence for the fish we put in it. Farming even in our backyard was not my thing.  Freed from my supervision she found she had the talent.

Recognizing the family connection, I passed up a chance to gather a couple more Venture Bound stories and just told myself--relax, you're home again.

Gathering eggs was part of my mother and my daughter's life styles