I saw in the paper at our motel in the evening that “National Park Service officials approved $3 million in illegal construction projects over a decade that damaged one of the nation’s most sacred American Indian burial sites.” Later it reported “while no human remains were affected, one tribal leader complained that officials treated his ancestors’ cemeteries ‘as places to walk your dog…”
Earlier that day, we had visited the site of this “damage,” Effigy Mounds National Monument, created in 1949 to preserve around 200 mounds, some shaped like bears and birds.
We had once visited a mound in Mississippi and were aware of others in Florida, Ohio and Indiana, but I didn’t realize that scientists estimate that at one time there were around 2500 prehistoric mound sites scattered over what is now the lower 48 states. Most are long gone.
The earliest sites go back to fifteen hundred years B.C. These in Iowa are estimated to have begun around 700 A.D., and all the mound building seems to have stopped around 1200 to 1300 A.D.
But ignorance is bliss, and I was not bothered by all this as we took a quiet 2.4 mile walk (just a short part of the trails available).
Leaves were just budding, so occasionally we had glimpses of the Mississippi River even before walking out to a viewpoint. We could see the birds flitting about. I was particularly taken with one little bird with bright orange on its wings and belly but promptly forgot its name when I learned it.
There are more than two hundred mounds at the park including a long group of marching bears headed by two eagles. However it is a four-mile walk over hilly terrain to the latter, and we didn’t have the energy nor want to take the time.
We did see a number of round mounds, some elongated mounds and “Little Bear” and “Great Bear.” For some reason Great Bear is the only one facing right. He/she faces east, but the others are more or less random, so I doubt the position of the sun had anything to do with it. They seem to be heading downstream. (Perhaps they too are going to Florida for the winter.)
I said to Alie, I wish they had built a viewing platform. “It would only have to be about fifteen feet high to get a good picture of the bear.” After millennia of erosion, they are hard to see in a photograph. We were able to imagine, however, that at one time they might have been higher and quite distinct.
Of course, the critics would be horrified at my suggestion. At the risk of offending, I will be politically incorrect. I do not approve of the construction of paths in such areas without archeological surveys. I don’t even like litter in cemeteries, and I would be angered if someone showed disrespect in Arlington. But the paths that were created did not disturb any graves. Without them we could not appreciate the mounds.
All our ancestors are immigrants; some of us just got here earlier. Current tribes’ ancestors might have thought the land sacred, but the tribes did not even know who built the mounds; indeed, their ancestors may have wiped out the mound builders accounting for their disappearance.
We should respect and preserve the mounds just as we should respect and preserve an Egyptian pyramid or a Greek or Roman temple. We should object to unauthorized construction on any government project; but we shouldn’t work ourselves into some moral fury that contributes little to the greater good.
We didn’t know about the controversy. We had a nice day.