The Guard Village site, located just minutes away from the Archaeological Research Institute (ARI) Learning Center, is situated in Dearborn County, Indiana. This site is an integral part of the Guard Archaeological Preserve.
Guard site, a Fort Ancient Village site, was inhabited by the first maize agriculturalists in the Ohio Valley between AD 1000-1250, marking the emergence of the Fort Ancient culture. This village provided a permanent residence for a population ranging from 150 to 500 individuals throughout the year. The villagers engaged in agricultural practices, tending to their crops and gardens, as well as fishing in the nearby rivers and wetlands, and hunting in the surrounding hills. Although only approximately half of the site has been surveyed, it is evident that the village was laid out in a large arc, likely forming a circular shape, with a prominent open area known as a plaza at its center. Standing tall in the midst of the plaza was a significant 30-foot-high pole. This central space served as the vibrant heart of the village, where people would gather to engage in various activities such as work, games, dancing, feasting, and religious ceremonies.
During our exploration, we have identified 33 structures within the village, primarily serving as dwellings for the villagers. These houses were square-shaped, with most measuring around 4-5 meters in width (12-15 feet). The houses offered a modest floorspace ranging from 20-25 square meters or 150-225 square feet, smaller than a typical studio apartment. Archaeologists speculate that these structures accommodated families consisting of 5-10 individuals. The walls of these houses were coated with daub, a plaster made from mud and clay, while the roofs were likely thatched with grass or river cane. It is possible that residents slept on benches built into the walls of these houses, while much of their daily activities took place in the courtyards situated in front of, between, or behind their homes.
The disposal of trash was a concern for the villagers, leading them to bury a significant portion of their garbage. Examining these discarded materials provides valuable insights into the daily lives and habits of the villagers. It is known that their diet primarily consisted of corn, as well as other cultivated plants like squash and Chenopodium (also known as goosefoot or lambsquarter). They also consumed freshwater mussels, fish, deer, turkey, nuts, and various wild plants and fruits. To create tools, they utilized mussel shells and deer bones to craft shovels and hoes. Stone materials such as granite and basalt were used to make hammers, axes, adzes, and mauls. Local stones known as chert were fashioned into cutting tools like knives, arrows, and spears. Clay was employed for pottery-making purposes, enabling them to create vessels for cooking, serving, and storage. Musical instruments such as flutes were crafted from turkey bones, while pipes for smoking tobacco were made from clay or stone. They also fashioned game pieces from bone, antler, and pottery.
The villagers were capable of traveling long distances, likely utilizing rivers as transportation routes and engaging in trade to acquire materials from distant regions. Artifacts have been discovered from central Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and even obsidian originating from Wyoming. Notably, pottery and artwork resembling styles found in the Chicago, Central Tennessee, Southwest Indiana, and St. Louis areas have also been found.
By AD 1300, most people had departed from the village. The exact reasons for their departure remain uncertain, and it is unlikely that a single cause triggered their exodus or that it occurred all at once. Possible factors include a series of floods, soil depletion, or internal tensions leading to frustration and abandonment of the village. It is likely that they established new villages or joined existing ones. These villages can be found scattered across southern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana. In the 1670s, people in this region were still residing in these villages, and they eventually became ancestors of the modern Shawnee and Miami nations, who inhabited this area during the early 1700s. It’s also possible that groups as far away as the Omaha and Quapaw can trace their ancestry back to these villagers.