In the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi once lived a prehistoric people, popularly called the Mound Builders, who left throughout the Middle West abundant traces of their material culture. They left earthen forts and embankments, the enigmatic mounds so long the subject of many theories, and the village sites which are now being discovered in connection with these mounds. Indiana is one of the regions richest in these archeological treasures.
Mounds are found throughout the Middle West, particularly in the river valleys, and they increase in number as the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi is approached. They are generally simple cones of earth, varying from 4 to 70 feet in height; but many are truncated and sometimes terraced. Occasionally stone mounds are also found. Enclosures and fortifications made of earthen walls of many shapes (circles, parallelograms, and other geometric forms indicating a knowledge of measurement) surround areas of from 1 to 30 acres. Mounds and the pits that may mark the former sites of dwellings are usually found within these enclosures.
Roughly about a third of Indiana's counties contain mounds or enclosures of one type or another. Most of them are found in the south, perhaps because of the Ohio and its tributaries; but there are several in La Porte County, at the northern border of the State. In the north central part of Indiana, in Howard, Tipton, and Hamilton Counties, there are numerous sites of interest; and in Madison County, four miles from Anderson, is the famous Mounds Park, presented to the State by the people of Madison County. The Fudge Mound, which has been thoroughly excavated and leveled, was in Randolph County near Winchester. The southeastern corner of the State ( Franklin, Bartholomew, Ripley, Dearborn, Ohio, Switzerland, Jefferson, Scott, Clark, and Floyd Counties) is dense with mounds and fortifications of great interest. There are mounds in Fountain, Vermillion, Morgan, Owen, Greene, Vigo, and Sullivan Counties; and in the southwestern part of the State, Knox, Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick Counties are known to contain many mounds.
At one time a veil of mystery hung over the Mound Builders. What was their origin? What became of them? Was theirs a civilization comparable to that of the Aztecs of Mexico, or were they primitive savages? Were the mounds built for altars of human sacrifice, for burial of the dead, for temples to the sun, or for palaces of kings? Theories were spun about a vast slave empire, with kings and priests, temples and cities, and a culture no less impressive than that of ancient Egypt. But for a century little concrete archeological knowledge was acquired in Indiana, in spite of the excavations of Charles A. LeSueur near New Harmony, and the enthusiastic work of E. T. Cox and John Collett, State geologists during the 1870's and 1880's.
Largely on the basis of research done in Ohio, which completed such a task long ago, Indiana archeologists are able to allocate to one culture or another the pottery, ornaments, and stone blades found so frequently in Indiana mounds. Moreover, Indiana scientists have added new material to the existing store of knowledge. Their recent work has accumulated a modest but solid store of facts to serve as a basis for further investigation.
The Mound Builders possessed a fairly well-developed culture -either early Neolithic (New Stone) or possibly late Paleolithic. The Neolithic age was that culture period in which men made tools of polished stone; developed pottery, the bow, textiles, and basketry; domesticated a few plants and animals; and began to use copper. Prehistoric traces in America, however, show that not all the people had attained this level of culture.