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Anthropology, Archaeology, Astronomy align on Totality Trip

Apr 11, 2024

A sign at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville, Indiana that reads Total Eclipse April 8, 2024 A tour bus packed with Titans departed South Bend early in the morning on April 8, headed south to Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville. The park would offer an ideal viewing area within the path of totality for the solar eclipse in the mid-afternoon, as well as providing an opportunity for anthropological and archaeological investigations during the “downtime.” The faculty leaders on the trip were Joshua Wells and Jay VanderVeen from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Upon arrival at the park, participants could stretch their legs and roam the grounds. Strawtown Koteewi Park spans 750 acres comprised of woods, prairies, and wetlands. The area resonates with special significance because it carries traces of human activity that go back to the end of the most recent ice age. Further artifacts come from the Woodland Era (1000 B.C.E. to 1400 A.D.) Because pathways such as the Lafayette Trace route and the Conner Trail came together at the site, multiple tribes combined to influence and affect the societies that gathered there. By 1800, European settlers had arrived, as well as members of the Lenape tribe from the Ohio area, who were welcomed by the resident Miami tribe.

Participants take a tour Strawtown Koteewi Park Professor Wells took over as tour guide for an hour’s worth of talks, leading the Titan group through the key exhibits, and providing extensive commentary. A key theme was that just as Indiana is called the “crossroads of America” today, it was actually equally true centuries ago.

Wells brought the group through the park’s Taylor Center of Natural History and the Koteewi Trace, a replicated Native American village site, designed to be as close as possible to what once stood there. Wells also explained the elaborate methodology that goes into the collection of archaeological data. The park offers a “mock dig” site, demonstrating how materials are collected from the ground and then meticulously analyzed and cataloged in the subsequent laboratory work.

As the time grew closer to the eclipse, VanderVeen chimed in with a transitional anecdote, setting a jovial tone for the big event. He told the group about a tradition that was not technically local – it’s from the Choctaw Nation – but pertinent nevertheless. The Choctaw attributed solar eclipses to the behavior of a mischievous and ravenous celestial black squirrel, who would occasionally get so hungry that he would try to gobble the sun. People could only stop the sun-eating squirrel by making a riotous noise sufficient to startle him off his task.

Participants viewing the total solar eclipse at Strawtown Koteewi Park As the big moment drew near, the temperature in Noblesville was an ideal 75 degrees, with only partial clouds and a slight haze. During the eclipse’s peak, with those spectacular effects such as the “diamond ring” and “Baily’s beads” clearly visible, there was indeed enough whooping and hollering to drive off any mythological squirrel. Before too long, though, the participants were content to “ooh” and “ah” more quietly, as the eerie temperature drop and sudden plunge into near-blackness cast a magical sense of stillness all around.

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