Just the name "Bone Bank" conjures up a picture of washed out human burials and grave goods. These remains caught the attention of early scholars and artifact collectors, including Henry Schoolcraft in 1825. This poster gives an overview of the Bone Bank archaeological site investigations, including Indiana University's rescue excavation project which took place in 2000-2003.

The surviving remnant of the Bone Bank archaeological site is the edge of what was once a large Mississippian village having cemeteries with rowed graves. This community was one of at least four large villages of the late Mississippian Caborn-Welborn culture which occupied the Mouth of the Wabash area ca. A.D. 1400-1700. Caborn-Welborn developed in the wake of large-scale population shifts and social reorganization that followed the decline of Mississippian chiefdoms in the "Vacant Quarter" (Stephen Williams, 1990) and the southward movement of Oneota peoples.

Early Investigations

The Bone Bank site represents many archaeological firsts:

  • in 1806, the first site in Indiana to be recorded by a government official (Government Land Office);
  • in 1828, the first archaeological excavation in Indiana (and one of the earliest in the U.S.), which was conducted by the French naturalist, Charles Alexandre Lesueur;
  • in 1873, the first archaeological site to be mapped by state geologists, who demonstrated the village site and cemeteries were on a natural terrace rather than a man-made mound; and
  • in 1898, the first site to be "written off" as no longer worthy of study (report to Warren K. Moorehead).

Lesueur's 1828 Investigations
Lesueur concluded that the artifacts and features at Bone Bank were from an ancient American Indian occupation, rather than the creation of "Mound Builders."

eroding cemeteries

exposed house basins

Caborn-Welborn decorated jar

His remarkably detailed drawings and brief notes (little published until Jacqueline Bonnemains' work in 1984) show that:

Antiquarian "Collectors"
A popular regional pastime in the late 1800s and early 1900s was to go to the Wabash riverbank to "dig" out display-quality artifacts. Illustrations of some of the pottery was published by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis in their 1847 "Ancient Monuments...." Many of the collected vessels and other artifacts were acquired by Charles Artes, an Evansville man, who later sold them to Harmon W Hendricks who made the purchase for the Heye Foundation. The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian now curates this collection. Only a small portion of this important collection has been studied. (Photos courtesy of the Museum.)

In Situ Clovis Point Discovery
In 1933, Francis Vreeland, an avocational archaeologist, discovered a Clovis spear point in dark soil about 2 m below the top of the eroding riverbank. He donated this artifact to the Indiana Historical Society. It is still the only curated Paleoindian artifact found in buried contexts in Indiana. (Photo courtesy of Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology.)

Recent Discoveries
The 1990 discoveries by Munson and Munson of eroding pit features led to systematic riverbank surveys by boat, and then to land-based surveys, testing, and ultimately a rescue excavation project.

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