Angel Mounds is the site of the largest settlement of its time in what is now known as Indiana. It was a fortified town serving as a social, political, and religious center for a much larger area of villages, hamlets, and farmsteads that ran 70 miles along the Ohio River, from the Wabash River to 35 miles east of Evansville. The town and surrounding settlements together constituted a chiefdom and were occupied from as early as A.D. 1000 to as late as A.D. 1450 by Native Americans whom archaeologists call Mississippians. The term “Mississippian” refers to an Indian culture, or way of life, which developed in the Mississippi River Valley about A.D. 800 and spread, with regional variations, across the southeastern United States to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This culture was characteristic of many different groups who spoke a variety of languages. We have no way of knowing what language the people who lived here spoke, what they called themselves, or what they called the town they built here. The town became known as Angel Mounds because it was part of a farm owned by the Angel family for over 100 years.
This region of the Ohio Valley has been occupied by a succession of people with different cultures. Paleo-Indians, big-game hunters who lived in this region as early as 12,000 years ago, were followed by Archaic hunters and gatherers around 9,000 years ago. By 1000 B.C. the succeeding Woodland peoples had begun to experiment with horticulture and to build ceremonial centers and mounds, activities which laid the foundations for the full-scale corn agriculture and permanent towns and villages of the Mississippian farmers by A.D. 1000. After the abandonment of Angel Mounds by A.D. 1400 – 1450, the population shifted downstream to the mouth of the Wabash where they built a number of large villages before leaving the area altogether by A.D. 1650. We do not know whether any living Native Americans are descendants of the people who once lived at Angel Mounds. Roving bands of Shawnee, Miami and other historic Native Americans moved into this area from the east and north and were followed by Euro-American settlers by A.D. 1800.
To preserve Angel Mounds, the Indiana Historical Society bought 412 acres of the site in 1938 with money donated by Eli Lilly. In 1946, the Historical Society gave the property to the State of Indiana and in 1965 granted the excavation rights to Indiana University along with the responsibility to house the artifacts. The original purchase was augmented by Elda Clayton Patton Herts’ donation of 20 acres containing an early Woodland mound. This mound lies across from the entrance to Angel Mounds State Historic Site on the north side of Pollack Avenue.
From 1939 – 1942, the United States Works Progress Administration workers, under the direction of Glenn A. Black, conducted scientific excavations. In 1945, Indiana University began archaeological research at the site, work which continues to expand our understanding of the people who lived here. The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation now protects, manages, and interprets Angel Mounds State Historic Site. The Friends of Angel Mounds, a local volunteer support group, raises funds and provides personnel for programs and special events.
The above is an excerpt from Angel Mounds: A Mississippian Town, available for purchase in the Friends of Angel Mounds Gift Shop.