“The Mounds Anomaly,” by Phyllis Gunderson, tells the story of Dr. Mathilda "Mat" Howard, a female archaeologist at an Arizona university. Howard’s specialty is anomalies — like how Hebrew inscriptions ended up in the desert of Colorado and a chain of 40 prehistoric fortresses came to appear in Illinois.
In a world of rigorous academics, Howard risks her career to push against the grain of American archaeology’s extensive belief system that condemns a long Native American prehistoric history as irrational.
Howard’s beliefs are vindicated when she meets up with a mysterious stranger in Illinois who takes her and her daughter to a legendary cave. The cave is filled with wonders, including the likes of Egyptian statues and rocks carved with Biblical scenes. The only problem is that no one believes her.
As all her peers, and even the historical record, call the cave and its artifacts one of the biggest hoaxes in American history, Howard is forced into a constant defense of her beliefs balanced with the concern of loosing both her credibility and job.
Overall, the novel offers a picture of what it is like to work as an archaeologist in a stifling academic environment where one has to respect the long-held traditions and beliefs held by the discipline for generations.
While the storyline is interesting, there are many strands left undeveloped and unsolved by the end of the book. Although the writing is clear and the plot is intriguing, the ending is far from the satisfying conclusion readers will expect.
The novel is based loosely on historical books depicting similar anomalies, including a cave. It is recommended for ages 12 and older as there is some technical language specific to the archaeological discipline. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is mentioned a few times, and the novel includes a discussion with a fictional church history curator.
Gunderson’s novel is a 2013 Whitney Award finalist in the historical category. The Whitney Awards recognize Mormon novelists.