Friday, December 16, 2016

Mounds State Park: Anderson Indiana


MOUNTS 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

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