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Clues to the past may tell history of Pickerington's Kerr Mound
Messenger photo by Lori Smith
Pickerington resident Faye Clark, 20, whose back yard overlooks the Kerr Mound site, sifts through dirt and finds a partial flake during the initial investigation of the mound on May 21. Clark, who studies archeology at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., said she has always been curious about the mound and was excited to have the opportunity to help with the investigation. The 2009 graduate of Pickerington Central High School is the daughter of Esther Klaus and Joel Clark.
As leaves and twigs crackle beneath the feet, it is easy to imagine the importance Pickerington’s Kerr Mound might have had to the Native Americans some 3,000 years ago.
Heading up and over the mound, maple trees sway in the breeze as birds sing quietly. A group of volunteers diligently sift through piles of dirt in the first attempt to recreate what happened at this sacred site, which was steadfastly preserved as a residential community developed around it during the last 20 years.
Kevin Nolan, a lecturer on anthropology at The Ohio State University, is leading the investigation. He credits Pickerington resident Vince Malone for making the investigation become a reality.
Last year, Malone contacted Pickerington officials and the Ohio Historical Society in an effort to find someone to initiate a study of the site, located on S.R. 256 east of downtown Pickerington.
It is apparent what a unique situation this is, when on May 21 at the site, Pickerington resident Faye Clark rushed up to Nolan with her hands shaking and excitement in her voice. The 20-year-old archeology student had found something noteworthy in just more than an hour’s work, and she couldn’t wait to find out more about it.
“It’s a flake – not a very pretty one,” Nolan concludes, describing it as a pre-arrowhead. “You’re not generally going to get an edge that sharp on a rock. This probably wouldn’t have been used for anything other than cutting.”
After noting the location of the artifact, they bag and label it and set it aside, and work resumes as all the volunteers are eager to see what the rest of the day’s studies will hold.
Nolan explained that a soil probe and analysis will be conducted every 5 meters, while shovel tests and a dig to the undisturbed subsoil will occur every 10 meters.
“We hope that we can find out with the shovel test what types of activities were going on at the time,” he said.
The Kerr Mound site is owned by the city of Pickerington, Nolan said. The property was donated to the city in 1982 after the mound was looted by archeological hobbyists, and the offenders were caught and arrested. It is believed their looting did not result in the collection of any artifacts. Since then, the site has sat largely undisturbed.
Nolan said Kerr Mound is just one of countless mounds in Ohio, and there may be even more in the central Ohio area that have not yet been identified at this point.
“In southern Ohio, there are thousands,” he said.
In the Pickerington area, however, there appear to be few.
“The truth is you never know,” he said.
He suspects the mound was created by the Adenas, a pre-Columbian Native American culture that existed from 1000 to 200 BC in a time known as the Early Woodland Period. Nolan said they were known for creating small, conical mounds such as Kerr Mound.
“It was almost certainly used for some type of religious or ceremonial purpose,” he said. “It was probably just some kind of gathering place – like a modern-day church or mall, a place to see people you don’t see every day.”
He said he expects the volunteer crew to possibly find feasting or ritual deposits.
“Often times there are things other than mound building that go on at a site,” he said. “We are trying to learn as much as we can about the land use.”
Nolan said the mound could have been used for the tribe’s everyday rituals, or perhaps it was a burial mound. However, the group will not be digging deep enough this time to determine if it is a burial mound.
“Bottom or center – if there is a burial chamber, that’s usually where it is,” he said.
The group’s inaugural dig garnered several interesting findings, Nolan said.
“We did find several flakes, which are byproducts of stone tool production; some historic glass; and even some carbon, charred plant material – mostly wood, but one possible nutshell,” he said. “Everything we find we are going to take back to the lab. We shouldn’t recover too much material so it shouldn’t take to long to compile our results.”
In addition to the May 21 investigation, others will continue throughout May and June.
Jarrod Burks from Ohio Valley Archeology also will utilize radar and other sensory equipment to study the mound’s composition.
Once completed with the investigation, Nolan said the team plans to send a report back to the Ohio Historical Society’s preservation office and the city of Pickerington to update their records.
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