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

Looking at Prehistory:
The Role of the Public in Archaeological Research

Prehistoric archaeology is the study of ancient human lifeways and cultures that left no written record of their lives. We can only know about them today through the study of the camps and villages (archaeological sites) where they once lived, along with their artifacts and preserved architectural remains that they left behind. Thus, it is vital that these sites be properly recorded and the artifacts from them documented. When artifacts are found such as bones, shells, pits with charcoal and other things, they often represent the remains of an ancient camp site or village. Archaeologists in the state are engaged in a constant effort to record and protect these sites for the future, but without the help of the public, much of it goes unreported and eventually is destroyed by new housing subdivisions, businesses, roads, bridges, coal mines, pot-hunting or looting (Figures 119-121).

Figure 119: The Slack Farm site in Kentucky seen from the air. This site was the scene of heavy looting which led to arrests and prosecution of several persons and upgrading of the laws protecting archaeological sites in several states (Photo courtesy of Kenny Barkley; from Pollack, Munson, and Henderson 1996).

Figure 120: Archaeologists work with Native Americans at Slack Farm to assess the looting damage and make assessments of the overall damage and loss of valuable history.

Figure 121: Graffiti damage on prehistoric mortars at Hemlock Cavern Rockshelter.

Archaeological sites located in the Hoosier National Forest are protected by federal law and should not be disturbed. If artifacts or other archaeological remains are observed, please report them to the forest archaeologist in Bedford, Indiana. Plot the location on a USGS quadrangle map or other scaled map to pinpoint the location where you made your discovery. The site can then be formally recorded and authorities can locate and monitor the site. By doing this, you may help save a site from destruction as it may be highly significant for writing the story of the prehistory of the region (Figures 122-124). Also, please report areas of disturbed earth within the forest that could be the result of vandalism. The penalties for looting are strict. Archaeological investigations, including excavations, are only conducted under professional supervision and only after obtaining a formal permit to do so.

Figure 122 (below): Circular images from the Roll Petroglyph site. These petroglyphs (pecked images in rock) and others were recorded in 1998 and 2001. They were highly weathered and some were barely visible because of river scouring.

Figure 123: Prehistoric images at the Roll Petroglyph site. These are Late Prehistoric or Historic period images. Image H is commonly interpreted to depict the bow and arrow based on rock art research in other regions of the country.

Figure 124: A prehistoric pictograph (painting) on the wall of Cedar Bluff Rockshelter. While this and others on the wall are rudimentary, they capture the flow of movement and have character. The one shown here probably depicts a warrior wearing feathers with a shield in one hand and a club or battle ax in the other. It may also be the case that some of the detail was lost to weathering and the use of an atlatl or the killing of an animal or evil spirit cannot be ruled out. The age is unknown, but a later prehistoric time frame is suggested. The art medium is black in color and probably a mixture of several unknown substances.

Archaeological research is regularly conducted in all parts of the state of Indiana by archaeologists connected with the various universities, the Hoosier National Forest, the Department of Natural Resources, and private Cultural Resource Management offices (see listing of offices and organizations below). You can participate in field research by making contact with local archaeologists (Figure 125). Archaeological field schools are conducted each summer by many of the universities which offer solid training in archaeological techniques and theory while granting college credit (Figure 126). There are also a number of avocational archaeological groups in the state that are devoted to proper collecting and recording of archaeological sites and welcome new members. Members of these groups are often able to help with salvage excavations of endangered archaeological sites, assist in the recording of accidental discoveries, and participate in grant funded archaeological research.

Figure 125 (below): Volunteers taking a break while helping archaeologists with an excavation.

Figure 126: Students hard at work in the heat of summer at Angel Mounds. Indiana University field school, 1976.

The State Archaeologist's office in the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology in Indianapolis is the main clearinghouse for archaeological information in Indiana. That office administers permits and grants for field investigations in all regions of the state and has programs and literature on archaeological research. They provide information on recording archaeological sites, identifying artifacts, laws that protect archaeological sites (including human burials and cemeteries) and much more. The State Archaeologist's office also sponsors "Archaeology Month" each September which provides an opportunity for professionals and avocational archaeologists to work together to educate the public about archaeology through the many programs and events they sponsor around the state.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2008