About 8 miles SE of Indiana’s 3rd largest city, Evansville, right next to the Ohio River, sits a centuries-old Native American archaeological site that few seem to know of. Known as the Angel Mounds State Historic Site, it encompasses around 600 acres and was a large residential and agricultural community, which primarily “served as the political, cultural, and economic center of the Angel chiefdom”. It’s rather 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. Located at 8215 Pollack Ave, Evansville, Indiana, it’s open Wed – Sun from 10am to 5pm and cost $8 (ages 18 – 59), $7 (ages 60+), $5 (ages 3 – 17), and children under 3 are free.
The land it sits on was bought by the Angel family in 1852 (how it got its name) as farmland, but it was later purchased in 1938 by the Indiana Historical Society in order to preserve it. Located at 8215 Pollack Ave, Evansville, Indiana, 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”; crazy coincidence), 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”.
When we went there was barely anyone there. Even though we visited a handful of years ago, I’d imagine it’d be the same, as this place is NOT well-known, even to locals. I wasn’t aware it existed, even growing up a mere hour away. I learned of it once my friend moved to Evansville, when she learned of it from her 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 apparently is not.
Thus, it’s not a surprise that we essentially had the place to ourselves. Yes, this was due to the site’s unpopularity, but to be completely fair, 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 “Huh. That’s an odd-looking hill”. That is what much of the site is comprised of – 13 mounds sprinkled throughout. There is also a few reconstructed historic buildings that you can explore, 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 early-20s me did. When I now reflect on the center, I think it’s 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 tend to think much about how civilizations before us truly lived. If we do, it’s usually through the tv. It’s really fun and educational to be able to see 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. Only now, in 2021, are they finally completing the repatriation of these remains. These remains of more than 700 people had sat at IU’s Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology since 1971.
Overall, if you’re into early-North American history, I think you will enjoy this site. If you are NOT, or not into history in general, I would probably skip. 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. While the mounds are terrific in their historical significance and must be preserved, it it’s a place for history lovers. So, if you’re ever in the Southern Indiana/Southern Illinois/Northern Kentucky region, and love history, plan a trip to Evansville to check out this historic site!