The Angel Mounds State Historic Site is a must see for all Hoosiers. Just east of Evansville, the Angel Mounds is one of Indiana’s best preserved Native American village sites, with a history stretching back about 1,000 years.
Around the year 1000 AD, a group of Native Americans, identified by archaeologists as being part of the Mississippian Culture, began building a town along what we now call the Ohio River, in southwestern Indiana. Flourishing until approximately 1450, the community built large platform mounds, a defensive palisade, and numerous dwellings, with a population of anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 individuals.
While we have no idea what the Native Americans called themselves, or the Angel Mounds village site, the site is an excellent example of the Mississippian Culture. This culture was widespread across the southeastern United States from circa 800 AD to 1600 AD. Remnants of their communities are spread up and down the various river valleys in the American southeast, with the most prominent remains at Cahokia, near present day St. Louis.
The Mississippian Culture, including the group that lived at Angel Mounds, organized themselves under a titular chief and are generally known as a chiefdom, with institutionalized inequality among the members.
The Native Americans chose this area along the Ohio River, as it offered some protection with the river on one side, and a slough (marshy area) on the opposing side. This essentially made the Angel Mound village an island and easily defended from all sides.
At one point, the inhabitants constructed a defensive palisade around their village as well. The palisade acted as a wall protecting the villagers who built dwellings on the inside. Part of the palisade has been reconstructed to give visitors an idea of the scope of what once existed here.
The most prominent features of the site are the eleven earthwork mounds, including the central ‘Mound A,’ which is the largest. Rising over 14 feet above the ground, Mound A likely once held the chieftain’s house. Mound F, some distance away, had a temple on top. While we don’t know the exact purpose of the temple for the villagers at Angel Mounds, we can deduce what it was probably used for based on written descriptions of observations made by colonists interacting with other Mississippian groups in the southeast. The Friends of Angel Mounds write in their 2011 Angel Mounds: A Mississippian Town on the Ohio River, that:
Temple guardians tended perpetual fires in honor of the Sun to whom fire was sacred. The chief and elite stored tribute, war trophies, personal wealth, status symbols, and ceremonial paraphernalia in the temples. Scalps and enemy trophy heads were often displayed on poles outside.
Consistent with other Mississippian Culture townsites, Angel Mounds features a large plaza, on which villagers would gather and play a game known as chunkey. The game, played extensively throughout the Mississippian world, had players rolling a stone disc along the ground, while throwing spears as it moved down the plaza. Players won by having the closest spear to the stopped stone disc.
The site has been protected in large part because of the efforts of Eli Lilly and Glenn Black. Lilly fronted a great deal of financial resources to the Indiana Historical Society to acquire the property in 1938. In the following year, the archaeologist Glenn Black began a systematic exploration of the site, which has continued off and on since that time. The site is called ‘Angel’ after the Angel family who onced owned the land.
For unknown reasons, the site was abandoned in 1450 and was used variously as farmland in the American period. In 1964, the site received a National Historic Landmark designation. In 2001, a new interpretive center was built. The site is managed by the Indiana DNR - Division of Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites.
8215 Pollack Ave. Evansville, IN 47715
Phone: 812.853.3956 Fax: 812.858.7686
Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays