artifact discovery halts
Charlestown State Park expansion
Helen E. McKinney
CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (May 2006) Many prehistoric
artifact jewels are imbedded along the banks of the Ohio River. Some
of these hidden relics from an ancient American Indian civilization
surfaced recently when officials began working on a new marina project
at Charlestown State Park.
An expansion project had been in the planning stages for
some time, said Park Property Manager Larry Gray. This $3 million project
to install a boat ramp, marina, picnic area, walking trails, a parking
lot and additional roads has been temporarily halted because of the
An area was discovered that was used as a prehistoric kitchen for Native
American Indians. A five-acre section of the park has yielded approximately
1,700 artifacts. Layers of silt deposited by floodwaters protected the
site, which lies near Twelve Mile Island. The area is part of a 2,700-acre
expansion project that is not yet open to the public.
This particular area could have been used by a prehistoric civilization.
It was not uncommon to have those groups there on a seasonal basis,
Charlestown State Park was established in October 1996. Indiana State
Sen. Jim Lewis was instrumental in securing funding for the park. Lewis
has been on the Natural Resources Committee in the senate for 28 years.
A Charlestown native, Sen. Lewis said he felt compelled to assist in
this project in his hometown. He was interested in preserving
land for our future generations, he said.
The park began with 2,339 acres and has since added 2,761 from the nearby
decommissioned Indiana Army Ammunition Depot. A popular fishing spot
is 14 Mile Creek, which flows through the center of the park. Several
trails run through the park and showcase the areas cliffs, wetlands
In the early 1800s, a stone fort or watchtower was discovered in the
area. A date of 1187 was carved upon it. This may have been an indication
of Welsh explorers in the area.
Artifacts dating to the Mississippian culture, a prehistoric Indian
civilization, have been found in nearby Louisville, Clarksville and
Shippingport Island. Artifacts collected at Charlestown State Park will
have to be turned back over to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Findings could be housed at a state museum in the future, said Gray.
Artifacts found include stone slabs used for grinding and cracking nuts,
the remains of fire pits and charred bits of plant material. Various
kinds of tools were unearthed, and now it must be decided if they were
special or unique to the area in some way.
Dr. Robert McCullough is leading an archaeological survey team from
Fort Wayne, Ind., that is studying the area. Experts from Indiana University-Purdue
University-Fort Wayne are studying the habits of these nomadic hunters
and gatherers from what they left behind.
Such archaeological work is required by federal and state historic preservation
laws before a construction project can begin, said Gray. No human bones
have been found, only evidences of a cooking area. It is known that
tribes in the area would collect hickory nuts, crush them, and boil
them to extract fatty oils that had a variety of uses.
McCullough is working on dating the site, which he guesses to be around
2000 BC to 3000 BC. He and his crew of professionals plan to work through
mid-May on site.
Objects found include projectile points and large grinding stones, which
would have crushed nuts and seeds, said McCullough. Some of the stones
weigh as much as 66 pounds. Such a system was prior to the cultivation
of corn, he said.
Also found were burned areas that could have been cooking areas.
McCullough labeled the site a special processing station,
a type of site that hasnt been studied much before. A lot of people
lived there at brief times of the year, but it was not habitational
all year long.
There seems to be a large amount of Laurel churt, a stone similar to
flint and from which stone tools can be created, in the area. McCullough
said it also appeared to be an area of gender separation, possibly a
womans area for processing winter food supplies. It is hard to
make any concrete assumptions because it dates, so far back in
time, he said.
This is a very rich area for artifacts, said McCullough.
He would like to see the artifacts returned to the park to be encased
in an interpretive center.
Through archaeological surveys, Its possible to find an
archaeological object anywhere, anytime, said Gray.
He added that a consultant has been sought to design a master plan for
the area. This in-house proposal will outline future goals. Other state
park projects were studied for inspiration.
Gray is optimistic that expansion plans will move swiftly along once
the college has completed a survey. Investigations will reveal if the
college needs to do more surveying.
Future funding is dependent upon the state budget committee, said Lewis.
He said he would maintain a strong effort to continue improvements.
Though expansion work has been temporarily halted, visitors will be
able to view this previously unopened area of the park in the future.
An existing road, Utica Pike Road, will provide access to the area.
For more information call Charlestown State
Park at (812) 256-5600 or visit: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/properties/park_charlestown.html.
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