The View from Plum Lick
Learning from the mound builders
mound builders of prehistoric Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley
vanished as mysteriously as they appeared. Today, they're
remembered as the Adena people (about 10,000 B.C. to 100 B.C.) and
the Hopewell culture (about 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.).
Their presence has been the
fascinating and compelling challenge of archaeologists and
anthropologists who've no written record for guidance, only
fossils and artifacts left in mounds still dotting the landscape.
An example sits on the edge of the bypass in Mt. Sterling in
Montgomery County. Another blips the horizon on the Pretty Run
Road in Clark County. "Lost City" is an archaeological
puzzle in Logan County. Mounds have endured along the Cumberland
River in Livingston County.
Present conventional wisdom
describes Kentucky historically as a "dark and bloody"
hunting ground for roving Indian tribes-Shawnee, Cherokee,
Choctaw. It's too easy to oversimplify the European influence as
if there'd never been prior civilizations. It's not too late to
read The Adena People, University of Kentucky Reports in
Anthropology by William S. Webb and Charles E. Snow (1945). In
1968, Peter Farb wrote Man's Rise to Civilization, As Shown by
the Indians of North America, from Primeval Times to the Coming of
the Industrial State. The December 1972 issue of National
Geographic includes George E. Stuart's "Hopewell Culture, Who
Were the Mound Builders?"
To probe more recently into
these rich possibilities, consider the present-day work of
archaeologist A. Gwynn Henderson. She's offering two presentations
for the 2001-2002 Speaker's Bureau of the Kentucky Humanities
Council. "Dispelling the Myth: Prehistoric Indian Life in
Kentucky" and "Prehistoric Popcorn: Short Videos on Life
in Prehistoric Kentucky" can be booked by community
Henderson, who works with the
Kentucky Archaeological Survey, describes "the diversity of
prehistoric lifeways, with special emphasis on the farming peoples
of central Kentucky… how native people used fire to manage a
forest… why archaeologists can't find where the mound builders
of central Kentucky actually lived."
Modern man and woman might
learn vital lessons to help lessen the possibility that they too
may one day vanish as a civilization. What did the mound builders
do that determined their destruction? What did they not do that
would have possibly made a difference in their development? These
are questions waiting for answers in a time when the United States
of America is only a fraction more than 200 years old, roughly
half as old as the Hopewell culture, a narrow window as old as the
The Kentucky Humanities
Council offers more. If mound builders don't fascinate you,
there's the Kentucky Chautauqua, "bringing life to
history"; Daniel Boone and Adolph Rupp; Simon Kenton and John
C.C. Mayo; Alben W. Barkley, Simon Bolivar Buckner, and Henry
Clay; Lily May Ledford, Laura Scott, and Sally Ward.
Bringing life to history,
trying to re-create and understand pre-history, is hardly a waste
of time. It helps us better to know from whence we've come in
order to project the possible future. What are the problems that
beset us? How can we solve them?
The prehistoric mound builders
who emerged after the last ice age had their hands and their
hearts upon which to rely in the struggle just to survive. They
had no knowledge, we presume, of computers and cyberspace. Their
thoughts are buried without a trace of writing. But they went
before us and upon their legacy we stand. It's essential that they
not be forgotten or ignored. After all, the Adena and the Hopewell
may have possessed more wisdom than we presently dare imagine.