September is Archaeology Month in Indiana. Archaeology Month allows Hoosiers to learn more about the discipline of archaeology, with the goal of increasing public awareness and minimizing the myths and misconceptions commonly associated with the discipline. The Hoosier National Forest, in south central Indiana, is fortunate to have an archaeology team on staff. Angie Doyle is a full-time archaeologist and Ann Koscielniak is a seasonal archaeological technician. Both have degrees in anthropology, the study of the cultures and development of human societies.
First, you may not be entirely sure what archaeology is. In your mind you perhaps envision someone digging up dinosaur bones. That field is actually paleontology. At its essence archaeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Koscielniak refers to it as, “a discipline devoted to the human condition over time and space. The knowledge gained can help improve human lives, and can guide us as we learn more sustainable ways of living.”
People may be drawn to this profession for different reasons. For Koscielniak it was a life-long desire based on an early adoration of Pleistocene mammals – the Ice Age megafauna. Think mammoths and mastodons. “As a small child, my family would regularly visit the University of Michigan’s Natural History Museum. I saw a diorama with humans interacting with and hunting these unusual, formidable beasts. And that blew my mind. It opened my eyes and imagination to other ways of living and interacting with the earth and the environment. It set in stone that there is no “single” human experience.” Doyle discovered archaeology in college. “A professor was really interesting and introduced me to the world of cultures, and how people live so differently across the world. It was a real eye opener. I did summer field work as I was pursuing my degree. I did hands-on archaeology with a professor who was also a Forest Service archaeologist on the Superior National Forest. This experience gave me the idea that you could do this for a job with the Forest Service, exploring archaeological sites.” And that’s exactly what she did. She has been an archaeologist with the Forest Service for 32 years, 26 of those at the Hoosier National Forest.
Doyle describes her work as being divided into several different components. “The first is surveying the lands that encompass the national forest. Trying to identify all of the cultural resource sites that exist so that they can be protected from any management activities that occur such as timber harvests, prescribed burns, or wetland restoration. The second part is evaluating the sites that you find to determine if they are significant according to the National Register of Historic Places. If they are, then we will protect them from any ground disturbing activities, as per federal law. And finally it’s public interpretation. Interpreting what we are learning from these evaluations to share with the public what we are managing for them as stewards of their national forest.”
A few highlights of her work on the national forest include several historic settlements. The Lick Creek African-American settlement in Orange County is one. Free blacks came in the early 1800s and set up a farming community. Traces of those sites still exist in the forest, and through partnerships with Indiana State Museum several of those farmsteads have been explored. One of the goals was to try to understand if there is a relationship between the farming community and the Underground Railroad because the period of occupation is pre-Civil War. There is a German-American community on the national forest in Perry County. Through partnership with Indiana University some farmstead excavations were done to explore some of that heritage. Doyle was instrumental in forming the Buffalo Trace Working Group which explored the meaning and significance of the Buffalo Trace early transportation feature.
That project is being continued by Koscielniak, “I’m most excited to continue survey in the national forest for remnant segments of the Buffalo Trace- the original Wilderness Road and Indiana’s first highway, carved into the landscape by migrating bison. These corridors provided the means for early transportation into the region, and ultimately U.S. westward expansion. This project combines many of my passions- natural history, geology, history and archaeology.”
To find solutions to issues we face now and in the future, we may need to look to our past. According to Koscielniak, using archaeology to study past cultures, “can contribute knowledge and insight to mitigate the impacts of climate change, for example. We can ask how our ancestors may have dealt with similar environmental circumstances – new research methods and technologies are able to shed light on climate patterns that took place thousands of years ago, giving us a new perspective on how cultures of the time coped with variable and changing environments. Archaeology has also been used, in part, to help revitalize indigenous agricultural technologies and traditional foodways, improving health and empowering native communities with a local economy and cultural survival.”
As Doyle notes, “Cultural resources are one of many resources we are charged with managing on public lands. They are different than most other resources on the forest in that they are non-renewable. Once they are damaged or destroyed they are gone forever. If a significant resource isn’t protected there is no way to get that information back. We manage over 2,000 cultural resource sites and we’ve only surveyed about half of it.” We all play a role in protecting these sites so we do not lose those connections to our past, or the possible keys to our future.
Almira and Martin Scott Jr. c. 1918, the only known photograph of residents of Lick Creek African-American Settlement in Orange County, Ind. They owned land there for over 20 years.
Archaeologist Angie Doyle conducting an excavation on the Hoosier National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Forest Service’s Eastern Region includes 20 states in the Midwest and East, stretching from Maine, to Maryland, to Missouri, to Minnesota. There are 17 national forests and one national tallgrass prairie in the Eastern Region. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/R9.
The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us.