By NANCY LYBARGER
NEWBURGH, Ind. — Farming isn’t anything like it was 900 years ago on the land where Angel Mounds State Historic Site is located today.
More than 800 people took advantage of a fine recent pre-spring weekend to visit stations showing agriculture as far back as American pioneer days and tour the site where ancient Middle Mississip-pian cultures lived and worked thousands of years ago.
Visitors were encouraged to participate, with activities including candle dipping, corn husk dolls, corn grinding and coffee grinding. A smokehouse was operating so they could taste sausage and jerky made on-site. Lye soap was cooking on an open fire after the ash was strained through cloth and the liquid lye was mixed with hog lard in an iron pot.
Antique farm machinery on display was provided mostly by the Southern Indiana Antique & Machinery Club. Of Evansville, Jack Mills and Bob Reuter brought a restored Philadelphia No. 9 coffee grinder and a 90-year-old corn grinder on a trailer filled with an assortment of Red Chief grinders and shellers.
C.J. Sauer was in the blacksmith tent. Brian Rexing of Poseyville also brought his Farmall 45 H hooked up with a belt and a wood saw. Inside the museum, quilting ladies plied their needles and a wood carver was busy making a wooden chain. There were gourd displays and an old cook stove from a Kentucky farm.
Heather Johnson, assistant program director at the site, said this is the newest event and it has been well supported by the ag community, and well attended.
Angel Mounds is an excavated site, home to Middle Mississippian cultures from 1000-1400 A.D. Much of the village has been unearthed and stands on the banks of the Ohio River in southwestern Indiana. Middle Mississippians were known for building earthwork mounds, including the platform, conical and ridgetop. The platform mound held their central community.
This was the largest settlement of its time in Indiana. Scholars believe the town may have held a population of 1,000 people at its peak, according to information at the site.
The Mississippian cultures abandoned the site long before European settlers arrived.
No one knows exactly why the tribes moved downriver to the confluence of the Ohio and Wabash rivers, but it is speculated a sustained drought caused food shortages and over-harvesting of the woods caused a shortage of building supplies and heating/cooking fuel.
Hundreds of years later, the area was occupied by Shawnee and Miami tribes. The property occupied by Angel Mounds now was purchased from the Angel family, who owned it from 1852-1938. The Angel family properties were purchased through a donation from Eli Lilly for the Indiana Historic Society.
It was a great location for the Mississippian farmers, since annual spring floods replenished the soil on which they cultivated maize. They were able to grow surplus crop and used it to trade with other villages.
The surplus was evidently large enough for the settlement to develop artisan and craft specialties.
Some acreage surrounding the historic site has continued in ag production, today still prized for its high-quality soils.
Excavation projects in recent years uncovered pottery tools and masses of prepared, slightly fire clay pieces, making it appear it was a production line for jars, bowls and figurines. The site includes five large platform mounds and seven smaller mounds surrounding two large plazas.
A defensive palisade with bastions surrounded the 99-acre town, according to information from the Angel Mounds site.