You can’t beat the view — 2,000 years ago or today. Credit: Photo by Linda Koutsky

You can’t beat the view — 2,000 years ago or today. Credit: Photo by Linda Koutsky

A spiritual site with sweeping views of the Mississippi

Indian Mounds Park, 10 Mounds Blvd., St. Paul           

This is one of the oldest parks in the metro area (established in 1893) and has some of the oldest tourist sights in the state. The original people who chose this destination felt it had a spiritual presence — I  think you will too.

Thirty nine mounds, from just under 2-feet high to the 15-foot tall one that’s still there, were located on Dayton’s Bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Only six remain today. The others were destroyed by farming, road building, park planning, and development. It’s a great park with a sweeping view and all of us should cycle this into our park visits because not many metropolitan Downtowns have their own prehistoric sites. And these mounds deserve our appreciation.

The six on Dayton’s Bluff are most likely the oldest mounds from this site and probably date from between 200 B.C.–400 A.D. Nobody knows for sure though because no artifacts have been excavated in modern times to carbon date them. There are plenty of other mounds along the Mississippi including the effigy mounds in Iowa shaped like bears and birds and the flat-topped pyramids in Illinois. No other mounds are located north of here on the Mississippi but we have many more throughout the state near Mille Lacs, Itasca State Park and Lake of the Woods. Similar mounds have been excavated and dated. Others with round bases like these typically date from the Middle Woodland era (200 B.C.–400 A.D.)

But just because we can’t date artifacts from these mounds doesn’t mean they’ve been left alone. Today it’s a felony to disturb a burial ground but these mounds were accessed in the mid- to late-1800s by several people — bad and good. Theodore H. Lewis cofounded the Northwest Archeological Survey and over the course of 15 years documented nearly 7,700 burial mounds in Minnesota and several thousand more in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and the Dakotas. He opened them up, documented the artifacts, then closed them up again. In these mounds he found skeletons, mussel shells, a stone tool, arrowheads, a bone awl, wood planks, a ceramic pipe, shell beads, hammered copper breastplates, a bear tooth, a copper ornament, mussel shell spoons, and a piece of lead ore. Some of the items were made locally; some traded with other tribes.

Lewis noted in 1896 there were 10 villages in the area: along the river, at Pig’s Eye Lake, and at Phalen Creek. No evidence has ever been found that they lived up near the mounds; it’s too far from water to be practical. Perched high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, this was a ceremonial resting place for these ancient people’s ancestors.

We’ve got about 12,000 burial mounds in the state and a few thousand right here in the metro area. In fact, Lake Minnetonka has many—thus the town name: Mound. This park makes a peaceful getaway to appreciate the mounds’ graceful curves, the meandering river below, and both skylines in the distance. Two thousand years later, it’s still a special place.

DINNER BREAK: Go for the signature 10 oz. New York strip steak with a side of roasted forest mushrooms at nearby Strip Club Meat & Fish (378 Maria Ave.)

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