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Ohio town plans museum for area's Indian artifacts

By Steve Kemme

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 4:35 p.m. MDT

In this April 10, 2012, photo, Ken Tankersley, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, walks down the American Indian mound at the Oddfellow Cemetery in Newtown, Ohio. The cemetery is now called the Flagg Spring Cemetery and has gravestones dating back to the early 1800s. The old firehouse in Newtown, which has been vacant since firefighters moved to a new Little Miami Joint Fire and Rescue District facility in December, soon will showcase the rich prehistoric past of the village. With a $300,000 state grant, the village plans to convert part of the old firehouse into a museum devoted to the display of prehistoric Indian artifacts found in Newtown and the surrounding area.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Liz Dufour) NO SALES, Associated Press

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NEWTOWN, Ohio — The tall white brick building that was constructed in 1841 as a Baptist church and later became Newtown's firehouse deserves its historic status.

But what's beneath this building is even more historic.

It sits on an American Indian mound dating to about the year 700. The builders of that Baptist church discovered skeletons of prehistoric Indians as well as artifacts when they dug a hole for the basement. The only indication today of a mound is a slight rise in the ground around the building.

Visible signs of the prehistoric Indian societies that flourished in Newtown and its surrounding area for thousands of years exist beneath many of the village's buildings and streets and above ground in fields, woods, parks and cemeteries.

"Just about anywhere you dig in Newtown, you're going to come upon a prehistoric Indian archaeological site," said Ken Tankersley, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati. "The entire town is basically one very large cluster of archaeological sites that span 13,000 years of pre-history."

The old firehouse, which has been vacant since firefighters moved to a new Little Miami Joint Fire and Rescue District facility in December, soon will showcase the rich prehistoric past of this village of 2,672 residents. With a $300,000 state grant, the village plans to convert part of the old firehouse into a museum devoted to the display of prehistoric Indian artifacts found in Newtown and the surrounding area.

It will be the first exclusively American Indian museum in Greater Cincinnati. The closest museum to Cincinnati displaying American Indian artifacts exclusively is the one at the Fort Ancient State Memorial in Warren County's Oregonia. Part of the Cincinnati Museum Center features an American Indian artifact collection.

"We have a rich Indian heritage in Newtown," Mayor Curt Cosby said. "We just think it's appropriate that we have something to recognize that."

Newtown officials expect the American Indian museum to open in a year to 18 months. The village is consulting with architects on a preliminary design for the museum. A design must be approved by the Ohio Facilities Cultural Commission.

Once the firehouse is renovated, the village will move its administrative offices into part of the building and set up the museum in another section. The police department, which now occupies part of Village Hall, will spread out to fill that building.

Village Hall is across the street from the old firehouse. Built in 1878, it's also on top of an Indian mound that, like the one under the old firehouse, is discernible only to anthropology and archaeology experts with knowledge of Newtown's prehistory.

The $300,000 state grant Newtown received four years ago for the Indian museum will cover all renovation costs. For the administrative offices, the village will use money it has been saving for the project. Cosby said no cost has been estimated yet for the relocation.

Newtown plans to augment its own Indian artifact collection with donated or loaned artifacts from local residents and possibly from the Cincinnati Museum Center and Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The Peabody Museum has a large number of artifacts that were excavated from this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In many undeveloped parts of Newtown and bordering areas of Anderson Township, pieces of Indian pottery, arrowheads and other prehistoric artifacts are just lying on the ground. Some residents have found them in their back yards.

"There are a lot of people in and around the Newtown area who have artifacts," Cosby said. "We're hoping that, once we open the museum, people will come forward with artifacts and either lend them to us or donate them."

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