Middle School (9 - 14) Books

GRAND MOUND: MINNESOTA HISTORIC SITES SERIES; Michael Budak; Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102, 800-647-7827; 1995, 28 pages oversize paperback $7.50, timeline, color photos, 0-780873-513081

All over the U.S. once were massive earthworks -- stepped pyramids, fortress-like walled towns, raised effigies of animals and mysterious mythic figures. Raised mounds, like this one near the Canadian border, wher3e the Big Fork joins the westward-flowing Rainy River, is this one, now 25 feet high, 100 x 140 feet at base, and containing about 90,000 cubic feet (5,000 tons) of earth. It's covered with trees and scarred with diggings by early treasure hunters. Most pre-contact earthworks are gone, plowed under, built over. This one was mad a state historical site, protected and with an interpretive center, whose site manager is this book's author.

Due to repatriation and reburial activities of the American Indian movement and local tribes, human remains taken from this and other burial mounds nearby were ceremonially reburied in 1991. Budak says:

"Dakota and Ojibway spiritual leaders met at the restored mound from which many of the remains had originally come. It was a cool, partly cloudy fall day. The nearby Rainy River was as smooth as glass -- there was not a breath of wind. After the spiritual leaders performed a purification ceremony, the boxes of bones were carried a half-mile down to the river-bottom mound. Then the leaders placed the bones and offerings in a large hole dug in the mound for this purpose. As the bowl and stem of a ceremonial pipe were put together in preparation for the first prayer, a tremendous gust of wind suddenly blew in from th river. A bald eagle soared above us over the tree tops. It became completely calm again, and we stood in awe, motionless and silent for many moments befor resuming the ceremony."

Most of the book, though, is a scientific and photographic presentation of what archaeologists have learned about the ancient cultures which successively established what were probably temporary camps, when huge sturgeon came up the river here for spawning. The first of these camped in this area around 9500 years ago, as the gigantic glacial lake Agasiz was starting to dry up. They did not do mound burials, they left stone flaked tools, indicating they had invented a kind of spear-thrower calleed an alatl. 7,000 years ago, the climate got much warmr. Those people used copper for ornaments and some tools, learned to fish better so they could live in larger groups. 2200 years ago, they began to build the first mounds. It was still a fishing and ceremonial, not year-round living site. Important bodies were brought her for reburials, and the mounds grew, layer by layer, over many centuries. Around this time for the next thousand years, there was an extensive trading network among the Native people of north America. Shells from the Gulf of Mexico and California, and rocks, metal and plants from many faraway places are found in campsites. Around 600 years ago, something happened, no one knows what. People stopped coming there, stopped adding burials to the mounds. 300 years ago, European fur traders and the Ojibwe people arrived in the area. In 1883, some local men dug a big tunnel through the base of Grand Mound, but it's not known what they did with whatever they found there. The reburials were of rmains found in University of Minnesota excavations made in 1933 and 1956.

This handsome little book has a history of these ancient people, with interesting photos of such artifacts as pottery and stone tools. It is interesting to learn that the ancient people were able to make very large pots (coild clay will collapse if pots are much bigger than a gallon) by making woven bags that held the clay together until it dried and could be fired. Photos show pot-making techniques, giant sturgeon that could still b found there in 1906, and many of the little flowering woodland plants of the area. The text sketches the history -- as much as can be reconstructed from little scraps -- of the ancient peoples who camped in this area for 12,000 years, in several successive cultures. Technological innovations, such as the toggle-headed fishing harpoon, which seems to have migrated down from the Arctic peoples who invented it, have been found. These are part of the indication that travel and trade -- and ideas -- were part of this ancient world, whose only records are scraps left behind in the earth.

A handsomely-produced booklet whose educational utility would have been greatly increased by better site location maps, and some placement of Minnsota mound and archaic people's sites within a larger context of an earthworks and perhaps ancient trade routes or cultural diffusion map. Most of the work on archaic peoples is in highly technical scientific books and articles prepared by and for archaeologists. This one has been prepared with schools in mind. Reviewed by Paula Giese

File: mi239

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 30, 1996 - 3:55:44 AM