find out more
For those wishing to read about the Middle Woodland (about 200 B.C. to A.D.
600) and the Mississippian (about A.D. 1000-1650) native Americans, state
archeologist Bill Mangold recommends the books “People of the Lakes” and
“People of the River” by William and Kathleen Gear. Locally, the Notre Dame
University Department of Anthropology is a recommended resource.
By PAULENE POPARAD
“Archeology in northwest Indiana doesn’t have that big a history. Very
little professional work has been done. We’re learning a lot, and there’s a
lot more for us to find out,” according to Bill Mangold.
As one of four state archeologists with the Indiana Department of Natural
Resources, Mangold has been studying this area’s ancient cultures for 30
years and will write his Ph.D. dissertation on the topic.
What archeologists do know is that the first native Americans, known as
Paleoindians, migrated to northwest Indiana about 10,000 B.C. Before that,
the region was under ice. “It’s a little hard to live on top of a glacier
one mile thick,” said Mangold. “Once it receded, when the animals started
coming in, so did man.”
The Paleoindians came from other areas of the United States, where man is
thought to have existed since 20,000 B.C., Mangold told an Indiana Dunes
State park audience Saturday.
Only a small portion of prehistoric culture survives like stone, bone and
shell because the more perishable bark, hide, wood and feathers have
decomposed long ago. Being nomadic, the first people had little and carried
even less of it with them; sometimes they would leave buried caches,
intending to return but didn’t, couldn’t, or forget where their things were.
In Spencer County, 10,000 of what appear to be some kind of ceremonial
stones were found. Stone was sometimes buried to keep it moist and prevent
it from becoming brittle.
The earliest writings have been lost. Prior to 300 years ago, when
missionaries, soldiers and traders visited the area, written records weren’t
Mangold said there’s evidence Paleoindians hunted and butchered mastadon and
mammoth by jabbing them at close range with spears, but this rarely
“They would eat off it until the meat was so putrid they couldn’t stand it,”
said Mangold. If the hunters were experienced, their small groups
occasionally also might eat caribou and six-foot-tall beavers, but their
diet consisted mostly of plants, roots and nuts.
The first spear tips or projectile points, lashed with green hide to a
stick, were flared inward at the bottom to better hug the stick. The point’s
sides couldn’t be too sharp or it would split the hide as it dried and
The early projectile points, some quite large, also served as knives. Most
were made out of chert, a dense quartz rock. Later projectile points were
notched to allow the hide to shrink and not be cut by the sharpened rock.
A leap in weaponry came with development of the atl atl, a hollow tube into
which the spear was placed. The weight of the tube, and additional stone
weights, some decorated, which likely were attached to it, allowed more
force to be applied to the spear throw, effectively doubling its distance.
“Now you don’t need to be right up next to a beast. It really revolutionized
hunting,” said Mangold. Elk, deer and bear came into the diet.
In Central America, he added, the Aztecs later used a form of atl atl that
could go through the breastplate of Spanish armour, through a soldier’s body
and exit through his back armour. “It was a very deadly weapon.”
Now known as the Early Archaic people, native Americans of 7,000 B.C. were
still mobile hunters and gatherers but traveled in larger bands, utilized
caves and rock shelters, used cemetery and cremation sites, and used stone
tools for grinding, cracking and crushing food.
By about 4,500 B.C., the Middle Archaic people used stone axes and pointed
stone drills, and they stayed at campsites longer, often near a river.
According to the DNR, the Bluegrass site in Warrick County contained human
and dog burials, garbage pits and carved hairpins made of bone.
Over the last 20 years, Mangold said, technology has become so advanced “we
can look at the edge of a tool and tell if it was used to cut plants, meat,
hide, bones or wood. Every one gives us a different microsopic
The Late Archaic native Americans of about 4,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. used
stone, shell and copper beads to make necklaces. Populations increased,
living in semi-permanent camps where regional and cultural boundaries were
recognized and mussels were a favorite food. Trade networks were formed and
the routes used for thousands of years.
Although archeologists aren’t sure for what they were used, primitive
bird-shaped stones begin appearing. Mangold said some speculate the stones
may have been tied to the head of the deceased to carry their spirit into
the afterlife. Birdstones are one of the rarest artifacts in the Midwest
with only two or three found a year.
About 1,000 B.C. there’s evidence of differential burial with some interred
in mounds while others were cremated. “Whether they were a chief, a high
priest or big merchant, we don’t know,” said Mangold of the mounds’
inhabitants. Log tombs were used for later burials.
Mangold said some of the eight to 10 burial mounds in Porter Township,
adjacent to a proposed but never-built landfill now in litigation, were
excavated in the early part of the century and documented in a 1932
Mounds can be the burial site of dozens of people or one. “If we find a tomb
and it’s undisturbed, we leave it that way.” One mound in Ohio is over 100
feet high. Sadly, said Mangold, many mounds are plowed over during
cultivation and eventually disappear.
About 600 B.C. clay pottery, later heavily decorated, is introduced to the
native American culture. Ugly, thick and the size of small wastebasket, the
pots are a revolution in cooking allowing people to boil water over a fire
instead of dropping hot rocks into a water-filled hide pouch or woven
basket. The rocks would burst, sending small grit into the food that ground
“What really grinds teeth is corn. We can tell when it was introduced
because corn has natural sugar and the cavities skyrocket,” according to
Mangold. “After 800 A.D. corn becomes very important. Acres are planted and
harvested and become the staple diet. Pumpkins, gourds, probably beans and
sunflowers, their seeds ground primarily for oil, also are grown.”
Mangold said by 200 B.C., archeologists are pretty sure native Americans
were using tobacco. Before that, they were smoking other things. Garbage
pits are especially good finds, he added, because the charcoal can be dated
with greater specificity.
Archeologists also work with forensic scientists. Mangold said, “Teeth grow
like trees. They have growth rings. If you had a bad year, it would be seen
in your teeth.” The teeth of one prehistoric person showed between age four
and six they almost starved to death, he noted.
The bow and arrow didn’t come into use until after 500 A.D. After 900 A.D.
it is more common to see arrow wounds. “In prehistoric times, warfare
doesn’t come in until there’s something to fight over. Here, it would be
land,” said Mangold. “People were forced to rely on someone else much more.
There could be a tornado or flood. If you’re fighting, your neighbor is not
inclined to help you.”
Mangold estimated Indiana alone is losing 1,000 archeological sites a year.
“When the ground is disturbed, it’s disturbed forever. You can’t put it back
like it was.”
He also believes modern landfills will become the archeological sites of the
future. “There’s more computer power on your car today than was on the first
space capsule. That technology will leave our fingerprint on things.”