It's 1988. Workers building a road in Mt. Vernon, Ind. damage an ancient burial mound, causing a treasure trove of silver and copper to pour from the ground. A bulldozer operator decides to grab some of the treasure. He ends up in prison for looting.
It sounds like the plot of an Indiana Jones film, only it's not a movie. The treasure belonged to a mysterious and advanced culture that flourished in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. nearly 2,000 years ago. Because it predates the written record, this prehistoric culture doesn't have a Native American name but in the 1800s, archaeologists dubbed it the Hopewell Tradition.
An exhibit of artifacts from the Hopewell site, curated by the Indiana State Museum and on display at the Angel Mounds State Historic Site in Evansville, Ind. through Jan. 14, is raising some fresh questions about these ancient Americans.
[opening excerpt from radio on Jan. 3, 2011]