Angel Mounds

Angel Mounds State Historic Site (12 VG 1) is located on the Ohio River in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Indiana. Located 8 miles (13 km) southeast of Evansville and just upriver of the confluence of the Green and Ohio rivers, it is administered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites as one of 16 state museums and historic sites. In 1964 this major complex of earthworks was designated a National Historic Landmark because of its significance. It is named after the Angel family who in the early 19th century owned the property on which it is located.

History

For thousands of years, southwestern Indiana was home to successive cultures of Native Americans, who settled near the rivers and used them for travel and trade.

Beginning after 1000 CE, people of the widespread Mississippian culture built a town at this site, covering 100 acres (0.40 km2) and situated on a large, terraced mound near the river. Today, Angel Mounds State Historic Site is nationally recognized as one of the best-preserved prehistoric Native American sites in the United States. It was given National Historic Landmark status as part of this recognition. This site is the most northeastern of the Mississippian culture, which had sites throughout the river valleys of the Mississippi and its tributaries, such as the Ohio River, and ranging into North Carolina and as far south as Mississippi. Continuing excavations at the site reveal new elements of the complex society.

From 1100 CE to 1450 CE, people of the Middle Mississippian culture built and lived in a town on this site. They were known for building characteristic earthwork mounds, with shapes including platform, conical and ridgetop (as seen at Cahokia.) Angel Mounds was a chiefdom (the base of the chief) and the regional center of a large residential and agricultural community that extended for several miles around. They built a major earthwork, working with a variety of soils to create a stable mass. The platform mound held their central community. They traded with other chiefdoms and peoples along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This settlement was the largest-known town of its time in Indiana. Scholars believe the town may have contained as many as 1,000 inhabitants at its peak.

Archeologists have used the distinctive pottery produced here and in other satellite communities in this section of the Ohio River valley to define the Angel phase. Archaeologists infer that the smaller communities were politically subordinate to the main site.

The people engaged in hunting and farming on the rich bottom lands of the Ohio River. In addition to the mounds they built for ceremonial and cosmological purposes, they constructed a defensive 12-foot (3.7 m)-high stockade made of wattle and daub, and punctuated with bastions.

The Mississippian people abandoned the site long before European contact. No one knows why the civilization declined, but scholars have speculated that an extended regional drought reduced the maize surpluses that had enabled the concentration of population. In addition, the people may have overhunted, as well as reducing forests by their consumption of wood for the stockade, houses and fires. Archaeologists theorize that with the collapse of the chiefdom by 1450, many of the Angel people had relocated downriver to the confluence of the Ohio and Wabash rivers. A new Late Mississippian cultural group subsequently emerged and have been named by archeologists as the Caborn-Welborn culture.

Groups of Shawnee, Miami, and other historical tribes moved into this area from the eastern valle about 1650 CE, well after the Mississippians had abandoned the town at Angel Mounds. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European-American settlers migrated to the area from the east, and settled to farm the land. Much like the Native Americans, they were lured by the rich soil and temperate growing season. One of the families to settle in southwestern Indiana was headed by Mathias Angel. He had a farmstead on the site of Angel Mounds from 1852 until his death in 1899. His brothers owned adjacent farms, and the land remained in the Angel family until 1938. Angel Mounds State Historic Site is named after this family.

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