Thursday, January 9, 2020

The History of the Paleo-Indians of the Albany (Hopewell) Mounds in Albany, Illinois.

One of the most important archaeological sites in Illinois, Albany Mounds contains evidence of continuous human occupation over the last 10,000 years. The Albany Mounds date from the Middle Woodland (Hopewell) period (200 BC to 500 AD), older than either the Cahokia Mounds (700 AD to 1650 AD) or Dickson Mounds (800 AD to 1250 AD) of the Mississippian period.

The indigenous people who lived here as early as 500 BC were part of the Hopewell culture, so named because of their existence was first learned of on the Hopewell farm in Ohio where similar mounds had been built. It is not known what the people called themselves or what language they spoke.

While still obtaining food largely through hunting and gathering, Woodland peoples began practicing basic horticulture of native plants. Woodland peoples are distinguished from earlier inhabitants by the development of pottery and the building of raised mounds near large villages for death and burial ceremonies.

It is believed that their culture seemed to decline somewhere about 350 A D. From about 200 BC to 300 AD, the Albany Hopewell constructed over 96 burial mounds at this site. It was, and still is, one of the largest mound groups in the nation. It is the largest Hopewell culture mound group in Illinois. The Albany Hopewell built their mounds on the bluff tops above the village and on the terraces adjacent to the village.
The site was well suited to the Hopewell culture, which was not an Indian tribe, but rather a term referring to the period of time in Paleo-Indian history marked by trade, communication and a sharing of ideas throughout a very large area of the continent. They preferred to build their villages at the base of bluffs along the floodplains of major rivers, such as the Mississippi, that offered transportation. At Albany, with the adjacent Meredosia Slough which served as flood drainage for the Mississippi and Rock Rivers, there was an abundant source of food and water. The waters, forest, and prairie provided food and fuel for the Hopewell.

Today about 50 of the mounds remain, thirty-nine of the mounds remain in good condition, while eight have been partially destroyed through erosion, excavation, or cultivation. Other mounds were totally destroyed by agricultural activities, by railroad and highway construction, site looter, and still, others were destroyed in the process of being scientifically excavated in the early 1900s by the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences.
Burial artifacts include non-local materials, indicating the existence of trading networks with Indians from other areas. The site of the nearby village remains privately owned. The mounds were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In the 1990s the site was “restored" to a natural appearance and a prairie of about one hundred acres was re-established.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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