About 8 miles southeast of Evansville, Indiana’s 3rd largest city, right next to the mighty Ohio River, sits a centuries-old Native American archaeological site that few know exists. Officially known as the Angel Mounds State Historic Site, it encompasses around 600 acres and was a large residential and agricultural community. It primarily “served as the political, cultural, and economic center of the Angel chiefdom”. It’s extremely old, constructed and inhabited from 1100AD to 1450 AD. At its peak, Angel Mounds had more than 1,000 residents and was a bustling Native American settlement.
The land it sits on was bought by the Angel family in 1852 (hence the name) as “farmland” and re-purchased in 1938 by the Indiana Historical Society to preserve it. Located at 8215 Pollack Ave, Evansville, IN 47715, it was officially labeled a National Historic Landmark in 1964. It was originally built and inhabited by the Mississippian culture (who are said to have lived during the “Angel Phase”; I’m still not sure if the phase name was given because of the Angel family or it’s simply a coincidence. There wasn’t much info on that), which according to Wiki, “was a Native American civilization that flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE, varying regionally. It was known for building large, earthen platform mounds, and often other shaped mounds as well”. This is exactly what Angel Mounds is most known for… again, hence the name.
We went several years ago, around 2013, and there was barely anyone there. I would imagine it is the same now, since it is NOT well-known, even to locals. I wasn’t aware it existed the entire time I lived in southern Illinois, a mere hour away. I learned of it randomly once my friend moved to Evansville, where she had randomly learned of it from a coworker. While Cahokia (another ancient Native American civilization that utilized mounds) in west-central Illinois is relatively well-known throughout the region, Angel Mounds is not.
Thus, it is not a surprise that we basically had the place to ourselves, save for maybe 5 or 6 other people. This is due to the site’s unpopularity, but to be completely fair and honest, unless you’re a history enthusiast, there isn’t much to look at. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might think “Hmmm. That’s an odd-looking hill”. That is what much of the site is, 13 mounds sprinkled throughout the site. There are a few reconstructed historic buildings that you can explore, as well as an interpretive center that houses recreations of Mississippian structures and culture, and a 500-acre nature preserve that sits apart from the archeological site.
At the time, for me the interpretive center was the best part. However, 31-year-old me would appreciate the mounds a lot more than 23-year-old me did. As evident by the photos, Kristi and I didn’t take where we were very seriously. We were young, dumb, and ignorant. When I now reflect on the center, I think it’s so awesome. It’s pretty cool of the Indiana Historical Society to take the time and care to recreate Mississippian culture so present-day humans can view how they lived. We (as a collective society) don’t think too much about how civilizations pioneers lived, and if we do, it’s usually through books or a History Channel t.v. show. It’s really fun and educational to be able to see it in person. It truly puts into perspective how easy we have it nowadays!
Now, as for these mounds and what they exactly are…
There are 13 mounds left at the site; 6 large platform mounds (Mounds A through F), 5 smaller mounds (Mounds H through L), and at least one large plaza mound. While experts are unsure what every use of the mounds was, they know they were used for things like ceremonies, elevating important structures (like homes for the leaders), and for burials. In fact, more than 700 Native American remains were found and excavated from the site by famed Indiana University archaeologist Glenn Black in 1939. Believe it or not, only now, in 2021, are they finally completing the repatriation of these remains. Seriously, the remains of more than 700 people sat at IU’s Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology since 1971. Where the remains were from 1939 to 1971, I am not sure.
Overall, if you’re into early-North American history, I think you will enjoy this site. If you are NOT into early-N.A. history, or just history in general, I would steer clear. This is a place that requires the visitor to appreciate and enjoy history, as there is not much to offer other than that. It’s not a place I’d bring my 4-year-old child to, as she would be quickly bored with it. While this place is terrific in its historical significance and must be preserved and protected, it is definitely a place for history buffs/lovers. So, if history is your jam, and you’re ever in the southern Indiana/southern Illinois/northern Kentucky region, plan a trip to Evansville to check out this historic and valuable site!
Angel Mounds is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm and is quite affordable. Adults are $8 (ages 18 – 59), seniors are $7 (ages 60+), youth are $5 (ages 3 – 17), and children under 3 are free.