Adventure in Archaeology: Fall season highlights archaeology at Strawtown Koteewi

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For the 17th straight year, staff at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville focusing throughout the fall on archaeology. September was the statewide recognition of Archaeology Month, but staff at the park have turned the initiative into a seasonal event.

“We’ve participated since 2001, and we do a lot of programming,” said Christy Brocken, historical resource specialist at Strawtown Koteewi Park. “In one year, we see approximately 4,000 come through. For us, it used to be Archaeology Month (in September), but now it’s really Archaeology Fall. It starts at the end of August and goes through October with some programming into November. In addition to school field trips, we also do programming on Saturdays for the general public.”

Christy Brocken speaks with a tour group inside Koteewi Trace, a recreation of the village and structures that would have been on the park property. (Photos by Sadie Hunter)

Brocken is an archaeologist. Before joining Hamilton County Parks and Recreation in 2006, she worked as a contract archaeologist. Her master’s degree, however, is in museum studies, and she said she now considers herself more of a museum professional.

Brocken’s job at Strawtown Koteewi Park involves hours of cataloging thousands of artifacts into the park’s digital cataloging system. There are more than 14,200 catalogues in the database, and each can record up to 200 items found at the park. Many of those items are on display in the park’s Taylor Center for Natural History during archaeology programming, including pieces of tools that are estimated to be approximately 10,500 years old.

“This is the fourth year we’ve done a lecture series where we invite archaeological professionals from across the state to give a lecture to the general public on their current research or research topics that they’re passionate about or have a long history with,” Brocken said.

The fall focus on archaeology also lends itself as a learning opportunity for local graduate students studying archaeology.

“This is a great time for them to practice giving their presentations to the public,” Brocken said. “The Midwest Archaeology Conference is coming up (this month), so it’s a good time to kind of get that stuff out and present to a more professional audience at that point.”

Brocken said in celebrating archaeology at Strawtown Koteewi Park, the staff focuses on how the 750-acre site in north Noblesville fits into the science.

“At Strawtown Koteewi, with just the foodways, we have found ethnobotanical remains from our archaeology sites,” she said. “We have lots of pottery that we’ve recovered from the site. The science and methodology of archaeology is across the board, so just getting people introduced to archaeology, that there is a science, and there is a lot that goes into it.”

Nature hikes around the property are popular, especially for school groups visiting the site.

“We like to get the kids on the property and walking around looking at some of the native plants that we have and some of the things that people who, when they were living here, may have utilized,” Brocken said. “We also talk about the history of the park property, the people who once lived here, what we’ve uncovered from the archaeological excavations and how that’s informed us about what the past lifeways were.

Some of the oldest items found at the park are tools, estimated to be approximately 10,500 years old.

“We know they were maze agriculturalists. They were farming corn on a large scale. Those are just some of the things we’ve learned about from studying them through archaeology.”

Despite thousands of items having been found, Brocken said less than 1 percent of the park property has been excavated.

“Even our most heavily excavated sites have been excavated at less than or just at 1 percent,” Brocken said. “Just from that we’ve learned a great deal. There’s always more to learn and re-analyze and look at collections. Researchers can come to us with a certain objective and can look at the collection from a new set of eyes, asking a question like, ‘How were these bone tools utilized? I’m only interested in studying bone tools of a particular type.’”

Archaeology also factors into the parks department’s plans when it looks to expand services by developing new attractions on the property.

In recent years, new structures have been added, like a horse barn for trail riding, a man-made sledding hill, an archery range, a Native American village recreation and more.

“The development that takes place on this park is unlike a lot of other parks in that you’ve got to have documentation,” said Don Nicholls, resource development specialist with HCPR. “If you turn a spade in this park, you better know what you’re doing, and really you’re not allowed to.”

“We hire an outside archaeologist who does that,” Brocken said. “We contract with a (professional archaeologist) who does oversee any kind of project or development that we do on this property. One of the things that Hamilton County Parks did when it purchased the property was to survey the entire property, a pedestrian survey where archaeological teams went out and mapped and documented where any archaeological sites are. We’ve discovered that we have over 144 different and distinctive sites on the property, four of which are listed on the national register.”

VISIT THE TAYLOR CENTER AND STRAWTOWN ENCLOSURE

The Taylor Center of Natural History is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Artifacts recovered by professional archaeologists in previous excavations are on display in the exhibit room, and more than eight miles of trails are open. Staff also conducts tours of the Strawtown Enclosure, a Native American village that was inhabited more than 700 years ago. During the tours, staff discusses the Native Americans who built and used the enclosure and show some of the artifacts recovered by archaeologists. The tours begin inside the Taylor Center of Natural History and include a short stroll to the village site. Tours are 11 a.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. For more, call 317-774-2574.

UPCOMING EVENTS AT STRAWTOWN KOTEEWI

En plein air painting

What: Participants will receive basic painting instruction from professional artist David Johnson. Artists will be encouraged to select their own subject matter from the surroundings of Strawtown Koteewi Park. Participants should bring their own canvas, brushes and paint and a beverage and picnic dinner if desired.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: Taylor Center for Natural History, 12308 Strawtown Ave., Noblesville

Cost: Free, but registration is preferred by emailing christy.brocken@hamiltoncounty.in.gov or calling 317-774-2576.

 

When a Spirit Calls: The Rise of Spiritualism in Victorian Indiana

What: Karen Shank-Chapman, executive director of the Wayne County Historical Museum, will lead this presentation on spiritualism in the Victorian Era and will bring along some artifacts to help illustrate some of the practices she will discuss.

When: 1 p.m. Oct. 13

Where: Taylor Center for Natural History, 12308 Strawtown Ave., Noblesville

Cost: Free

 

Pioneer Fall Fest

What: Join Taylor Center staff at its historic red barn for a day of pioneer fun. Join the “quilting bee,” make a corn husk doll and fresh butter or learn about pioneer plants with community herbalist, Greg Monzel.

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 20

Where: Taylor Center for Natural History, 12308 Strawtown Ave., Noblesville

Cost: Free

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