Mapping the Past at Angel Mounds with Geographic Information Systems

By David Massey

Image of a man standing in front of artifact boxes, smiling at camera
Image of David Massey (August 2019)

Hello! I’m David Massey, and I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography at Indiana University. This summer I was working in the Glenn Black Lab rehousing faunal materials from Angel Mounds as part of the “Saving America’s Treasures” (SAT) project. It was fascinating to see the range of faunal material coming from the site, from the tiniest rodent teeth to drumfish jaws and deer antlers.

My research focus is on the use of remote sensing technologies to investigate archaeological sites. Remote sensing is a broad term that refers to the non-invasive acquisition of information about a physical landscape. While most remotely sensed data comes from satellites or aircrafts, drones fly much closer to the Earth’s surface and are able to collect finer resolution data. Archaeologists are increasingly using drones to survey landscapes for this reason. I’m currently working on a project at Angel Mounds using Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) topographic models derived from an aircraft and a drone. This will help us understand the labor involved in constructing the mounds and what this tells us about the degree of social complexity among the inhabitants.

We’re very fortunate that Glenn Black had the foresight to systematically excavate Angel Mounds. After excavating at Nowlin Mound in 1934-1935, Black (1936) wrote that “if the results of any excavation are to provide an unimpeachable historical record of a prehistoric work, too much stress cannot be placed upon methodical technique and exactness of detail, no matter how trivial the feature may be.” This attention to what some at the time deemed trivial details enables archaeologists to discover and examine spatial patterns in the archaeological record through a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database today. GIS is an essential tool for archaeologists because it allows for the analysis and visualization of large amounts of spatial data.

10 by 10 grid with numbers along each side, represents subdivison X11C
Example diagram of Angel Mounds subdivision X11C (Massey 2019)

Glenn Black divided the entire site into Subdivisions, Blocks, and Depths. Each Subdivision is a 100 x 100-foot square.  Within each Subdivision is one hundred 10 x 10-foot Blocks. Each Block is labeled from 0 – 9 along the y-axis and into Left and Right from 1 – 5 on the x-axis. Each Block is additionally separated into 6 categories of depth in feet: 0.0 – 0.4, 0.4 – 0.8, 0.8 – 1.2, 1.2 – 1.6, 1.6 – 2.0, and 2.0 – 2.4.  All this information can be displayed in GIS as a shapefile. A shapefile stores information about specific geographic features such as their location, shape, and attributes.

Satellite image of Angel Mounds with red boxes drawn over the top, locating relevant subdivisions for rehousing in 2019.
Locations of subdivisions on satellite image of Angel Mounds (Massey 2019)

This past summer we rehoused faunal material from 17 different Subdivisions. These records get updated in a Filemaker database and form the basis for the GIS database. The naming conventions of fields within the GIS and Filemaker database become very important at this point, because at least one must match for the data to be imported and joined correctly.

Below is an example of one Subdivision our team worked on this summer.

Aerial image of Angel Mounds subdivision X11C, with blocks of varying levels of black to represent concentrations of faunal materials rehoused in 2019.
Visual representation of faunal items rehoused from X11C (Massey 2019)

Subdivision X-11-C contains 1,936 faunal records and 88 of 100 Blocks currently have data associated with them. The total weight of all bone within X-11-C is 573.6178 kilograms, while the average weight of bone across all X-11-C Blocks is 5.86082 kg. It’s possible to see concentrations of bone across this Subdivision. In Figure 6, darker shading indicates a higher standard deviation across this Block compared to the mean (5.86082 kg), while lighter squares indicate lower standards of deviation. Depth information, which has not been added yet, would provide more chronological insight.  Moving forward, we hope to have all excavation data in a GIS database to conduct more sophisticated spatial analyses of faunal, lithic, and ceramic material to help us better understand the landscape around Angel Mounds. 


References:

Black, Glenn A. (1936). Excavation of the Nowlin Mound: Dearborn County Site 7, 1934–1935. Indiana History Bulletin, 13(7), 197 – 342.


MORE ABOUT IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

Angel Rehousing Project, Part 5

Part 5 of Amanda’s Angel Rehousing Project blog series

by Amanda Pavot

I have returned with news!

First, this is going to be my last blog post of the semester. However(!), the current plan is to continue to make blog posts about the project as it goes on. It’s just going to be different people writing. Maybe we’ll get more perspectives other than mine! Keep checking the blog for more updates!

More importantly, the Rehousing has started! It’s being divided into a couple of phases, those phases being “sort out the moldy bone boxes” and then “do everything else.”

~Issues in Curation~

Remember last post when I said that our NAGPRA team was pulling out AFOs and going through faunal remains to ensure that all sacred items and human remains are accounted for? Also, remember waaay back when I said that some of the boxes of artifacts have mold in them?

After opening boxes that had faunal remains in order to go through them, many of those boxes were found to have mold in them. Before our NAGPRA team can sort through those bones, they need to be cleaned up and rehoused into temporary bags and boxes. Only then can they be sorted through. Because it’s Very Important to get this done, cleaning up the moldy bone boxes is the priority right now. So here’s how it works:

First, we put on our respirators and nitrile gloves. That’s very important. Then we pull one of the moldy boxes. We take out one of the bags and look up the information written on the bag to find it in our digital database. Then we take the bones out of the bag, count them, vacuum off any mold (using a special attachment on the vacuum with the HEPA filter, which I think is cooler than it probably really is. The mold just comes right off, though!), and then weigh them. We get a new, archival-quality bag, write the information from the old bag onto the new one along with quantity and weight, and put the bones into the new bag. We also update the information in the database –for example, sometimes the number of artifacts in the bags and the number the database says we should have in those bags are different. Put the bag into a new box, move on to the next bag!

I left out a lot of the nitty-gritty details, but that’s basically how it works. We’re working in teams of two, one on a laptop with the database and one on the vacuum. When we finally finish all of the moldy bones, we’ll move on to the rest of the bulk collection. We’ll be training more people soon, and with more people we’ll be able to plow right through these boxes this summer!

I want to thank everyone who’s read these posts and has followed along so far. So: thank you! I’m looking forward to where this project is headed, and I hope you all are interested in it, too. I may be making some posts in the future, but, until then, have a great summer!


In September 2018, the GBL was awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant to rehabilitate and rehouse about 2.8 million artifacts from Angel Mounds over the next 3 years. These grants are administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

This “Curating Angel” project will allow us to provide safe, long-term preservation of the artifacts and associated documentation from archaeological work at Angel Mounds and make these collections more accessible for research and education.

More about IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

Angel Rehousing Project, Part 4

Amanda’s 4th blog about the ongoing Angel Rehousing project

by Amanda Pavot

Time for another Angel Update!

I’m still working on inventorying the boxes of the Type Collection. At first, I worked on a box of mostly projectile points, especially small triangular points. Then I worked on an especially heavy box of groundstone, which includes items like stones they used as hammers and celts (stone axes). Now I’m working on a box of worked bone, which includes bone tools and pins. One neat thing about working in a museum like this is the variety of interesting artifacts you get to see! Holding an object that was carved into by a person hundreds of years ago can really make you feel things.

There are a lot of other projects connected to this Angel Rehousing project. One of these is the very important job of repatriating artifacts and human remains. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a law that, among other things, sets the procedure of returning certain Native American artifacts to their related communities. It also reflects changes in thought, specifically how archaeologists in the early 20th century think in terms of family connections to communities of Native Americans. Excavations at Angel Mounds began in the early-to-mid 20th Century, so human remains and objects associated with burials ended up in the Glenn Black’s collection.

What we call the “NAGPRA Team” has already been working on sorting out the human remains and AFOs (Associated Funerary Objects, or objects buried with the deceased) to be repatriated. There is an original list of AFOs that is used to find the artifacts in the collection that were associated with burials. Each object is pulled from the bulk collection and carefully documented; they are measured, weighed, and identified and described in more detail than what was done previously. An object noted in the original logs as simply “animal bone” will now have more pertinent information listed in the database. The Angel Rehousing project will end up playing an important role in this as well.

While AFOs have already been pulled from the bulk collection, sometimes, despite our best efforts, objects can be missed. As we sort through each individual artifact to be rehoused, we can look them up in the database where it will say if it is an AFO or not. Any found AFOs can then be separated out to be repatriated. In other words, the rehousing gives us the chance to go through every artifact to ensure no AFOs are missed.

There’s also the rehousing of the faunal artifacts, aka all the animal bones. A lot of times animal remains were buried with humans, or animal carcasses were discarded near burials. While most of the human remains have already been separated from the rest of the artifacts, it can be very difficult to identify small bone fragments, and some human remains have been found mixed up with animal remains. As we rehouse faunal artifacts, we will be going through the bones to double-check that no human remains are left behind, ensuring that, if any are found, they can be treated with the respect they deserve and be repatriated.

I’ll end this post with exciting news; rehousing starts this week! Next time, I’ll be back with more specifics about that!


In September 2018, the GBL was awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant to rehabilitate and rehouse about 2.8 million artifacts from Angel Mounds over the next 3 years. These grants are administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

This “Curating Angel” project will allow us to provide safe, long-term preservation of the artifacts and associated documentation from archaeological work at Angel Mounds and make these collections more accessible for research and education.

More about IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)