"Rare Jewels" of Gem City Preserved
Indian Mounds Park is at the south end of Quincy, Illinois—one of the few places where remnants of the Native American Mississippi River Valley mound building culture can still be seen. Within the park are a series of earthworks and mounds, the legacy of a culture that spanned centuries. These mounds were originally preserved in a city park thanks, in part, to a number of prescient citizens of Quincy.
Earthworks were communal places. Those found in Indian Mounds Park overlook the Mississippi and could have been seen for miles up and down river.
“These mounds have the ability to bring people together . . . it certainly happened in the past in some locations, and it’s happening now—with this project.” said Dave Nolan.
Archaeological preservation work undertaken by Steve Tieken (North American Archaeological Institute [NAAI]), Dave Nolan (Illinois State Archaeological Survey) and numerous volunteers including Native Americans from nine different tribal affiliations—Blackfoot, Cherokee (Chickamaka & Nvdagi bands), Choctaw, Gabrieleno/Tongva, Ho-Chunk, Iroquois, Mandan, and Prairie Band Potawatomi—recently removed decades of dense overgrowth, uncovering some of the best examples of circular earthworks, flat top pyramid mounds, and conical burial mounds found in the Midwest.
This cooperative effort began in 2009, growing out of a remapping project and bus tour, but most importantly, Steve Tieken’s deep interest in Native American art and culture. “Hidden within Quincy’s own Indian Mounds Park, these rare earthen monuments stand as a testament to the area’s first architects and engineers, the ancient aboriginal builders,” said Tieken. The purpose of the Quincy Mound preservation effort is to uncover the earthworks so their significance can be appreciated and studied. Further, Native Tribes see them as sacred and find it respectful to see the mounds cleaned off.
Prior to the cleanup, tribal spiritual leaders performed sacred pipe and drum ceremonies in order to commune with the ancestors, asking their blessing and permission to actually work on the mounds. “The goal was to come with a pure heart and open mind,” said Nolan.
The mound work included brush trimming as well as trash and tree limb removal. Volunteers cleared the entire upper ditch surrounding Mounds #Ao15–17 and the brush/tree fall cover on #Ao17 and Ao21. Mounds Ao19–20, which are located in a wooded tract, were cleared in December.
The terraced enclosure surrounding Ao15–17 is not well known to the archaeological community and is one of perhaps ten mound enclosures still extant in the Upper Mississippi River valley. It may be the best-preserved example of this feature type, however. The mounds themselves are also in tremendous shape. “Unfortunately, they had become so overgrown that they were almost unrecognizable . . . nobody could really appreciate them,” said Nolan. “This mound group is one of the prehistoric Native jewels in the ‘Gem City’ and now it can be more fully experienced as a result of the clearing work.”
Nolan has found it rewarding to work toward the same goal with Native peoples. “There is a strong sense of community. This project is something that we can all agree on, giving us a common sense of purpose.”
There is, in fact, a science to taking care of the earthworks. For example, prairie grass can be invasive and root too deeply. Trees aren’t good for the mounds either. Over time the volunteers hope to plant a type of cover that requires infrequent mowing.
“Steve Tieken is the one who has made this happen. We have him to thank for this,” said Nolan.
And people have already taken notice of the clean up. Nolan commented that “A lot of archaeologists will be surprised to see what’s there.”
The Indian Mounds Park group was featured on the Illinois Archaeology Awareness Month poster and also formed the basis for the accompanying article in the September 2011 issue of Illinois Antiquity.
Photos by Steve and Janet Tieken and Joe Bartholomew
For more information visit:
North American Archaeological Institute
[posted March 27, 2012]