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Digging reveals past of southern Indiana’s Hovey Lake

By Thomas B. Langhorne
Hovey Lake, Indiana (AP) 9-07

It was a first in Cheryl Ann Munson’s 42 years as an archaeologist. She and her team were excavating at Hovey Lake in Posey County this week when they made a rare find.

Buried about 18 inches down on what had been the floor of a prehistoric house probably made of wood posts, mud plaster and straw was a fully intact bowl – a “deep rim plate,” in archaeologist-speak – made of clay mixed with shell.

Inside was an intact clump of something that looks like dirt but might be blackened seeds or burned grain.

“Mostly we find broken up pieces of pottery, and they very rarely have contents,” said IU anthropology graduate student Dru McGill. “So what we’re hoping to do is take it back to our laboratory, have it analyzed by a specialist and try to figure out just what people here at Hovey Lake were eating 500 or 600 years ago.”

Munson, an Indiana University research scientist and director of the Hovey Lake Archaeological Project, has been bringing teams to the roughly 20-acre site as she obtained funding over the past 30 years.

She believes the house burned and its occupants fled, leaving their belongings behind. Charred clay, wall plaster, charcoal and red soil offer evidence of a fire.

“We uncovered a prehistoric hearth, a fireplace on the floor and a crushed pottery jar, and lots of clay plaster, rubble of clay plaster, that had burned,” Munson said, looking into a trench on the site.

“After we had excavated that, we could see soil stains again, and we said, ‘Oh my gosh, we have something that was here before the house was built.”’

Munson’s team uncovered evidence not only of an earlier house on the site, but holes 4 feet deep that supported posts for a tower from which attackers might have been repelled.

Munson says archaeological evidence uncovered over the years indicates the presence of a Native American village of the Mississippian Caborn-Welborn culture, including a courtyard square of sorts and homes ringed by a large wall supported by massive posts.

Until the archaeologists can find evidence that the villagers may have been trading with Europeans or others who had been trading with Europeans, they can only rely on radiocarbon dating to surmise the village existed anywhere from 1400 to 1650.

Likewise, while the presence of fortifications suggest the villagers were concerned with security, Munson and her team have found no evidence to suggest there was fighting there. Such evidence typically is found in burial sites, and excavating burial sites isn’t part of her mission.

The area in which Munson and her team were digging Wednesday lies across what is now Indiana 69, on the far east side of the Hovey Lake village site.

They are attempting to discover whether another fortification wall could have been built to protect an expanded residential area.

The current excavations, research and associated educational programs are being sponsored by about $20,000 in state and federal grants, plus private contributions. The work began Aug. 28 and will end Sept. 30.

“If we end up finding (evidence of) a fortification wall on the far south end of the village, it’s evidence that social conflict continued for centuries,” Munson said. “If we don’t, I believe it’s reasonable to conclude the villagers had negotiated a peace agreement with neighboring groups.”