Engaged Archaeology Project

For my engaged archaeology project, I decided to research and write a newspaper article on archaeology in LaPorte County, Indiana, which is where I call home.  Although I knew going into this project that a quick Google search just wasn’t going to cut it, I assumed that a trip to the LaPorte County Historical Society would be able to provide me with enough information to compose an intelligent and informative article about LaPorte County archaeology.  Not quite.

The Historical Society museum had a corner of their main display room dedicated to Native American artifacts–some found in LaPorte County, some found elsewhere in the United States, and some replicated for use as display objects.  Many of the artifacts specific to LaPorte County had been donated by amateur collectors, so there was little to no contextual information available for them.  The Historical Society staff were extremely helpful and brought out information from their archives that had been tagged “archaeology”–this mostly consisted of old newspaper articles, many of which referenced a man named Warren Ransburg, who surveyed and excavated mound sites.  The fact that my home county had mound sites was completely surprising–I had lived there for 20 years and yet never heard of mound sites in the area.  I decided to use Warren Ransburg’s work as the basis of my article, because it was honestly the best I could find–but the work was more than a hundred years old (Ransburg’s main work was published in 1880), and Ransburg still held to the hypothesis of a displaced Aztec or Mayan society coming north to construct the mounds.  I was holding out for something more recent and accurate.

I used some of the online archaeological databases mentioned in class to do a search on the area; lots of surveys turned up, but it seemed that most were basic pre-construction surveys, and none had any useful information attached.  Finally, in a randomly successful online search, I came across a doctoral thesis (published in 2009) that an archaeologist had written about the Middle Woodland culture of the Kankakee River Valley (which encompasses the southern portion of LaPorte County).  It was like striking gold.  I am immensely thankful to William Mangold, who wrote that thesis.  He saved my project!

As it turns out, LaPorte County was the center of the Goodall tradition, a Havana Hopewell culture of the Middle Woodland period.  The tradition is actually named after a farm in LaPorte County, where the largest complex of Goodall mounds is found.  The excess of copper found there (which had to have come from the north) may indicate that it was a trading center of sorts between the Great Lakes and areas further south.  (LaPorte County is at the southern tip of Lake Michigan.)

At this point, I had so much relevant information that I didn’t know how to construct an engaging newspaper article out of it–I wanted to convey the history of LaPorte County while also teaching archaeological bases, all while staying within a reasonable word count.  It took me a few tries, but I’m pretty pleased with the outcome, as was the editor of “What’s New LaPorte?”, an online newspaper for LaPorte County.  My article was published online this morning (Wednesday, April 30) as the lead story.  You can check is out at this link:  http://www.whatsnewlaporte.com/2014/04/29/msu-student-from-laporte-sheds-light-on-laporte-countys-archaeological-treasures/