Looking at Prehistory:
Indiana's Hoosier National Forest Region, 12,000 B.C. to 1650

Looking at Prehistory:
Middle Woodland Period 200 B.C. to A.D. 500

The Middle Woodland period marks a high point in trade and ceremonialism that is unparalleled by anything before or after this time period. Hopewell, named for a site in central Ohio, is a ceremonial and cultural phenomenon that spread throughout the eastern Woodlands early in the period. People began constructing complex burial mounds that included the building of log tombs, earthworks, and the use of goods made from exotic raw materials within burial tombs representing the wealth and status of elite persons. Average community members may never have seen or handled some of the exotic trade goods destined for use in the afterlife. Hopewell ceremonialism and long distance exchange took place between Middle Woodland communities spread over a wide territory.

Middle Woodland period camps and small villages are located over all of southwestern Indiana. They are probably more numerous in the hill country of southern Indiana and the Hoosier National Forest area than the current data shows, but rockshelters were heavily used early in the period. The Mann site, along with the GE or Mount Vernon Mound, which is named for a location near that town in southwestern Indiana, are the largest and most complex Hopewell sites known in the region. These sites became important ceremonial centers that probably attracted people of different cultural and social affiliations, along with a large variety of exotic goods traded from sources far outside the region (Figure 67). Many other mound sites of Middle Woodland affiliation are probably also located in southwestern Indiana but, they have not yet been recorded (Figure 68). There are some reports of possible Middle Woodland mounds from the region immediately adjacent to the Hoosier National Forest in the Tell City and Harrison County areas along the Ohio River, although very little is documented about them.

Figure 67: A map of the Mann site, Posey County, IN showing the locations of large mounds and earthworks (modified from Kellar 1979:Fig. 14.1).

Figure 68: Ongoing excavations at Mann site in 1967 by Indiana University to carefully document the prehistoric pits and other features, and also the locations and associations of artifacts being recovered.

The Crab Orchard tradition and the Mann phase represent the most notable Middle Woodland cultures in the region. Projectile points of the period include those of the Saratoga and Snyders clusters that belong to the Crab Orchard tradition and the Lowe and Copena clusters that belong to the later Mann phase (Figures 69-70). Many styles of ceramic vessels were developed during this period and the incorporation of knives or blades struck from prepared cores is an important addition to the tool kit. Flake blades were probably used for carving wood and fine incising on bone and wooden articles of all descriptions. Other tools characteristic of the Middle Woodland period include celts, which are basically ungrooved axes for cutting and hewing wood (Figure 71), various types of scrapers made from large flakes, mortars and pestles and other grinding stones.

Figure 69: Middle Woodland period Saratoga Expanded Stem and Snyders projectile points from Rockhouse Hollow Shelter and other sites in the hill country.

Figure 70: Middle Woodland period Lowe Flared Base and Copena Triangular projectile points from Rockhouse Hollow Shelter and other sites in the Hoosier National Forest.

Figure 71: Celts or ungrooved axes. After several thousand years, the ax was modified to be hafted to a wooden handle without making a groove. Presumably the ax-head was fitted to match a hole cut through the handle.

While agriculture within large prepared fields does not take place until the Late Woodland period several hundred years later, Middle Woodland peoples were cultivating a number of seed producing plants including sunflowers, lambsquarters or goosefoot, maygrass, erect knotweed, little barley and probably a large variety of other plants (see Figure 72). Most of these plants have oily and starchy seeds that could be ground into meal with mortars and pestles to make breads and cakes, or as an additive in other food preparations. Corn makes its first appearance during this time, but it was not grown in any large quantities. Corn, along with the knowledge of how to use it, is ultimately derived from northern Mexico where it was passed on from village to village with ever increasing popularity until finally reaching the Ohio Valley.

Figure 72: A few wild food plants used in prehistory. There are many species and varieties of food and medicinal plants used by Native Americans today and long ago. Some of the plants identified at archaeological sites apparently went extinct before the present day such as a species of marshelder (Iva annu) that was domesticated. The oily seeds of this plant appear in archaeological sites during the Middle Archaic period, and the plant was regularly harvested for its nutritional value along with many others for several thousand years thereafter. The illustrations shown here are modified from several sources (USDA 1971: Figs. 33, 60, 64, 71 with drawings by Regina O. Hughes; Gleason 1952: Vol. II, p. 75, Vol. III, p. 373; Cowan 1978: Fig. 2).

The Crab Orchard tradition is named for Crab Orchard Lake in southern Illinois. This tradition develops within the lower Ohio Valley and extends to include all of southern Illinois and northern Kentucky, up the Ohio River to near the Falls of the Ohio area in Clark County and a short distance up the Wabash River. The first pottery attributed to the Crab Orchard tradition is a coarse, rock-tempered pottery known as Sugar Hill Cord-marked which then gives way to clay-tempered pottery which is the primary ceramic of the Crab Orchard tradition. Clay temper is fired clay that was crushed and may include fragments of broken pots that were crushed and added to fresh clay to form new ceramic vessels. Later in the Middle Woodland period many types of rock, including crushed quartz, feldspar, limestone, sandstone, as well as sand and clay, were used as tempering agents.

The Crab Orchard people lived in the larger rockshelters of the Hoosier National Forest and left substantial evidence of their presence, including quantities of pot-sherds (e.g. fragments of broken pots) from the large cooking and storage vessels they made and used (Figures 73-74). Rockshelters were probably used for temporary shelter while hunting and collecting in the rugged terrain, although the shelters may have been visited regularly throughout the year and could have been used for several months consecutively as hunters and their families moved back and forth into the hill country from base camps within the floodplains and on the terraces of the Ohio River.

Figure 73: Pottery belonging to the Crab Orchard tradition from Rockhouse Hollow Shelter.

Figure 74: Large rim of a pottery vessel belonging to the Crab Orchard tradition, from Rockhouse Hollow Shelter.

The Mann phase is named for the Mann site located in Posey County that may have initially been established by people of the Crab Orchard tradition. These people were already present in the valley a few centuries before, yet the ceramics at Mann site have many types of temper and designs and some are definitely southern in derivation. For example, ceramic stamping technology and also the Lowe and Copena projectile point technologies appear first in the southeastern United States and their presence in Indiana probably means some groups of people from Tennessee and Georgia moved north into the Ohio Valley. Among the everyday cord-marked cooking vessels, the Mann site has ceramics with complicated stamping, check stamping, simple stamping and elaborate incising during this time which connects potters to Illinois and Ohio as well as with the southeastern United States (Figure 75). Stamping comes in many complex designs that were carved onto wooden paddles or dried and fired clay stamps that could be pressed or spanked onto the sides of clay vessels still wet from manufacture. The use of stamps enabled the manufacture of pottery with the same precise design (Figure 76). There are many other types of pottery designs that were accomplished with artful hands using various sharp and blunt tools to create designs by punching, dragging or cutting (incising) the surface of the wet clay vessel (Figure 77).

Figure 75: Hopewell and other Middle Woodland period decorated pottery from the Mann site and Rockhouse Hollow Shelter.

Figure 76: Complicated-stamped and simple-stamped ceramics from the Mann site.

Figure 77: A copper awl with a bone handle from the Cato site, fine-line incised ceramics from the Mann site and later Middle Woodland ceramics from Mann, Rockhouse Hollow, and Allison-LaMotte sites to the north.

The Allison-LaMotte phase defined for the Wabash Valley north into the Terre Haute area dates to the same time and could be a manifestation of the Mann phase or visa versa. Most of the cultural traits are duplicated, except Allison-LaMotte lacks burial mounds, earthworks and evidence of high ceremonialism. Perhaps the Mann site was also a special center for Allison-LaMotte peoples who lived along the Wabash. Most of the domestic pottery of the Mann phase and Allison-LaMotte is dominated by thin, cord-marked vessels with a variety of tempers added to the fresh clay.

Rockshelter sites in the Hoosier National Forest may not have been used as intensively during the Mann phase as they were by the earlier Crab Orchard people, since there is much less in the way of pot-sherds we can relate to them. Yet, it is possible that families may have typically carried ceramic vessels with them on their seasonal rounds between sites in the hill country and those scattered over surrounding areas and on the Ohio River. Perhaps the shelters were occupied more often by hunters who left mostly hunting equipment and carried meat and hides back to base camps where their families lived. Middle Woodland trading parties may have also occupied the rockshelters on their way to and from major Hopewell centers, transporting a variety of exotic and domestic goods. In addition, at least some of the people using the hill country may have taken part in ceremonies at Mann site or the GE Mound or, at least, obtained some of their tools and other artifacts through interaction with people from those sites. The GE Mound was unfortunately severely impacted by looting and we may never know the full importance of the site. Hopefully other Hopewell ceremonial sites will be reported and documented before they are destroyed by construction or looting.

The Mann site and GE Mound were extremely important ceremonial and trade centers that participated in the exchange of grizzly bear teeth and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains along with copper, mica, marine shell, pearls, and exotic cherts from locations all over the eastern United States and the Plains (Figure 78). Gifted craftsmen produced large spear points of obsidian obtained near Yellowstone National Park, quartz crystal obtained from special quarries and caves, and Knife River flint from the Dakotas. Mica, probably obtained in the Smokey Mountains, was often used to make elaborate cut-outs in the shape of human hands and birds. The Mann site is well-known for the large numbers of finely made human figurines of fired clay that have been found there (Figure 79). Each figurine depicts unique and unusual hair styles used during the Middle Woodland period and many other details including clothing, special postures and facial features. The numbers and kinds of Hopewell ceremonial goods is incredible and testifies to the sophistication of the times and the extent to which people would travel overland and by canoe to obtain special goods for elite persons and ceremonies.

Figure 78: Hopewell artifacts made from exotic raw materials including mica, copper, galena (lead crystal), obsidian, quartz, sugar quartz and flint ridge flint. Most of the items are from the Mann site.

Figure 79: Hopewell human figurine fragments of fired clay. The two small appendages at the bottom were recovered during the 1961 excavations at Rockhouse Hollow Shelter.

The Middle Woodland people who lived within the Hoosier National Forest left flakes of quartz crystal, fragments of mica, blades of Flint Ridge chert from Ohio and some human figurine fragments. Such finds are highly significant because these were apparently not materials that were used on a daily basis by common people of the time. The presence of such materials at sites in the hill country testifies that these people were connected to the vast Hopewell trade in exotic goods that took place throughout much of the eastern United States.

Underground caves constitute another type of archaeological site used not for residences by whole families, but by prehistoric explorers and miners who entered the underworld to extract many unusual types of rocks and minerals, along with crystals for medicinal and ceremonial needs. Archaeologists have proven that Wyandotte Cave in Crawford County was explored as early as 2000 B.C. by Late Archaic peoples who left torch fragments for dating and other evidence of their explorations long ago (Figure 80). Later on, during the Middle Woodland period, Wyandotte Cave was the scene of repeated explorations and heavy mining (see Munson and Munson 1990).

Figure 80: The "Pillar of the Constitution" deep within Wyandotte Cave (Courtesy of Gary Berdeaux, photographer, Carol Groves and Cave Country Adventures, 400 E. State Road 64, Marengo, IN).

Aragonite was quarried from the Pillar of the Constitution within Wyandotte Cave during the Middle Woodland period. Aragonite is a semi-translucent, banded flowstone composed of calcium carbonate that sometimes is the rock that forms stalagmites and stalactites within caves. The remains of stone hammers and antler pry bars have been found, along with fragments of aragonite, charcoal, and ash that were buried within quarry debris around the base of the Pillar of the Constitution. Much of the aragonite was apparently destined to be carved into ceremonial platform pipes and gorgets (e.g. drilled decorative items often shaped like a reel) and traded to far away Hopewell ceremonial centers in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and Tennessee. A fragment of a carved aragonite pipe was recovered in scientific excavations of Arrowhead Arch in Crawford County and dated to about A.D. 155. There are also fragments of this material used for ceremonial artifacts in the collections from the Mann site (Figures 81-82). Carbon-14 analysis suggests that aragonite was quarried in Wyandotte Cave during the first centuries of the Christian Era. Such material and the artwork created from it was probably distributed across the Hoosier National Forest en-route to Hopewell ceremonial centers. Many other important substances could only have been obtained by brave spelunkers within the dark recesses of Wyandotte and other caves in prehistory. Some of these are noteworthy and include epsom salts (epsomite), gypsum (also good for carving objects), saltpeter and nitrates, the latter of which were important in early historic time for making gun powder.

Figure 81: Middle Woodland period artifacts including cache blades made from Burlington (Illinois), Flint Ridge (Ohio), and Wyandotte chert (southern Indiana), drilled stone gorgets, pipe fragments and a turkey effigy carved from bone. The small and seemingly insignificant curved piece is a pipe fragment made from aragonite that was found in excavation at the Mann site.

Figure 82: Excavations within the dark alcove of Arrowhead Arch. Indiana University excavations, 1984.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2008
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