October 23, 2014
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Uncommon Ground

How a retired grocery store worker, a small-town family, and a team of archaeologists made Indiana history
Charles Lacer Jr., pictured in a basement workspace that formerly housed his collection from the Mann Site

Wearing his best Stetson hat and khaki pants, Paul Mann Sr. climbed atop an ancient Native American mound on his farmland, television cameras following him. It was the mid-1970s, and Mann’s Posey County farm — long fabled to harbor rare artifacts — just had been named to the National Register of Historic Places. As a skeptical TV reporter asked about the relics buried deep underground, Mann glanced down, bent over, and plucked an arrowhead from the soil near his feet.

Mann, a farmer known for his down-home, Midwestern friendliness, since has passed away. Corn and beans still spring up every summer, but his farm, tended by descendents, has faded from prominence after attracting archaeological digs and media attention in the ’60s and ’70s. The land and its mysterious history have “sort of been sidelined,” says Staffan Peterson, who researches Southwest Indiana archaeology. “Not many people know anything about it.”

This November, an eclectic group of archaeologists, researchers, Mann’s children, and a retired grocery store employee in his 70s aims to change that. In the highly anticipated exhibition “Cherished Possessions: The Mann Hopewell Legacy of Indiana,” which opens Nov. 6 at Angel Mounds State Historic Site, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites and the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology will reveal artifacts never before seen by the public.

The family farm is part of a Southwest Indiana phenomenon known as the Mann Site, a 500-acre area with stunning historical significance that rivals the better-known Hopewell sites in Ohio. The site dates back to around 150 to 450 A.D., and unlike other mound sites in the Hopewell tradition (a Native American culture that flourished in the Midwest), the Mann Site was a place of burial, civic proceedings, ceremony, and habitation. Archaeologists have uncovered a cosmopolitan array of artifacts: jaguar carvings, obsidian from Wyoming, copper from northern Michigan, hundreds of human figurine fragments, and pottery that has a striking connection to a site in Georgia. “It probably is the most important site in Indiana,” says Mike Linderman, site manager at Angel Mounds State Historic Site, “if not the entire Midwest.”

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accomplishment

Making or accomplishing something that can contribute to our history is a great pleasure. He must be very proud for it. The sad part is, the level of understanding among many U.S. learners concerning American history has been found wanting in recent reports. The Department of Education discovered in a recent survey that fourth graders were more proficient in U.S. history than high school seniors. Here's a proof: Most American students not proficient in American history.

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