An Indiana University East anthropology professor was awarded a $17,511 grant for a project that will be a major step forward in preserving a special archaeological site in the Lawrenceburg area of Indiana.
Aaron Comstock, assistant professor of anthropology, said the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council (WPLC) funds will be used for landscape management, clearing of invasive species and brush, and continued public education about the importance of what is known as the Guard archaeological site.
The project, “Past, Present, and Future Stewardship of Native Village Space: Integrating Indigenous Voices to Preserve our Cultural Landscapes,” is one of 14 projects chosen across IU campuses to receive a WPLC grant this year.
“It is an important site for understanding the transition to agriculture among the native inhabitants of this region almost 1,000 years ago,” Comstock said.
Comstock has conducted research at the site for almost a decade, including while as a graduate student and a post-doctoral researcher at The Ohio State University. He said he discussed the need for a project of this nature with his colleagues at the Archaeological Research Institute, a non-profit educational organization focused on the Guard site and other important sites in the region. “When I saw the call for the grant came out, it seemed like an excellent match. We are thrilled that the WPLC agreed!”
Rebecca Resetarits, executive director of Women’s Philanthropy at IU, said the project meets many of the priorities set for grant consideration by the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council (WPLC).
“Dr. Comstock’s proposal touched multiple focus areas considered by the WPLC,” Resetarits said. “The proposal also clearly outlined the critical need for preserving archaeological sites by collaborating with tribal colleagues and restoring native plant life.”
Charla Stonecipher, associate director of Women’s Philanthropy, said in addition to the areas of focus and collaboration, the project connects the campus to the community.
“The WPLC weighed several factors that led to full funding of this grant request including the service-learning experience for students, connections with the IU East campus and Lawrenceburg community, and particularly, the inclusion of historically underrepresented people. The WPLC looks forward to receiving updates about this project in the coming year,” Stonecipher said.
The project is important on several levels. “The first is the need to work with the Tribal colleagues to develop meaningful frameworks for stewarding important archeological sites. Archaeology is a discipline with a colonial past, a history that has led to understandable consternation and mistrust among many Native Americans.”
The goal for the Guard site is to convert space over sacred burial mounds to commemorative butterfly gardens and spaces outside of the village boundary to a native species pollinator prairie.
“This approach both meaningfully preserves the space and helps convert portions of the landscape back to native plant species,” he said. This stewardship plan represents an important step toward Tribal members and archaeologists working together to understand and preserve important sites that can teach us about the past.
Another factor making the project important is the challenge of such sites being used for farming.
“Many archaeological sites in Indiana are located within agricultural fields,” he said. “This poses an important problem considering the root systems of most crops impact delicate sub-surface archaeological deposits. But not farming is rarely an option for farmers in the state who rely on the land for their livelihood.”
Part of the project aims to identify crops that can be profitable for farmers while preserving the archeological space under them.
“The project also encourages engagement of the Lawrenceburg community and IU East students in the process of transitioning this site to a stewarded landscape – a partnership that generates a sense of ownership in a shared past.”
Comstock hopes the Guard effort helps develop a template that can be used in other sites throughout the region and the state. “We are excited to begin this project and get students and the public involved.”
The project work should begin in mid-July and is expected to continue through the summer of 2022.
For more information about the project or archeology studies at IU East, contact Comstock at email@example.com.
About Past, Present, and Future Stewardship of Native Village Space: Integrating Indigenous Voices to Preserve our Cultural Landscapes
A multivocal sustainable land management program is critical for the preservation of archaeological sites. Dangers including erosion, invasive species, vandalism, and looting can be mitigated through a strategy focused on preservation and increased native biodiversity. Students from IU East will be key members of a project combining scientific research and the inclusion of historically unrepresented people.
By building bridges between the multiple stakeholders of local communities, tribal partners, and archaeologists, we can responsibly steward these spaces for future generations. The project establishes a program for preserving archaeological sites by restoring native plant life and improving biodiversity by planting native pollinators. A primary element of this work involves a collaborative partnership with the descendant community (the Miami Tribe) to commemorate and protect sacred spaces with appropriate ground cover, and to develop a persistent landscape informed by traditional plant use.
About the IU Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council
Grants are awarded on an annual cycle from the WPLC Fund, which is administered by the Indiana University Foundation. Council members, alumni and friends of IU are invited to support the fund with annual contributions. Applications for 2022 grants will be available in fall 2021. The IU Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council was convened by the Indiana University Foundation Board of Directors in 2010. The council’s mission is to lead fundraising and engagement efforts that inspire women to give of their time, talent, and resources to Indiana University and to develop women leaders in philanthropy.
Founded in 1936, the Indiana University Foundation maximizes private support for Indiana University by fostering lifelong relationships with key stakeholders and providing advancement leadership and fundraising services for campuses and units across the university.