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The Book Indian Mound

The Book Indian Mound is a historic site in Beale Township known at least to those who live in the Academia area. One early publication that mentions the mound was written by U.J. Jones in his book History of the Early Settlement of the Juniata Valley, published in 1889. Until 1929 when archaeologists from the Pennsylvania Historical Commission completed their excavation nothing was known to explain its purpose, size or contents. Early landowners, unappreciative and disregarding its significance to the Native American culture, scattered most its contents over their fields as fertilizer. Others, like students from the Tuscarora Academy, searched the mound and removed Indian relics. By the time the Commission’s investigative dig, the plow and vandalism had significantly altered the mound’s characteristic elements.

More recent research has disproved all of Dr. Jones, [the PHC archaeologist] conclusions on the mound’s origins and the interpretation of its contents but his physical description and measurements are still credible. He concluded that the mound was approximately circular, measuring from north and south sixty-three feet and from east to west fifty-five feet. At the time its height was twenty inches higher than the surrounding field [1].

Shaffer, in her book entitled Native Americans Before 1492 states that “only two hundred years ago in the woodlands of Eastern North America there were tens of thousands of large earthen mounds, all of which were built by Native Americans”. She also states that “most people are more familiar with Native Americans of the southwest US or Mexico than the heritage of their own local region” [2]. This is probably true for Juniata County, as most people would not think that the Native American culture that built the Book Indian Mound existed 500 years or more before the time of Columbus.

Mound building cultures of western Pennsylvania and the Ohio River Valley arose during the Woodland Period or the Adena-Hopewell Period which lasted from about 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. [3] They were influenced by the earlier mound building culture that existed in the lower Mississippi River Valley. By the Adena-Hopewell period Native American’s were living in permanent settlements [4] and had begun to use clay pots to cook [5] and were hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants for food [6].

The two cultures associated with this mound building period were the Adena [500 -100 B.C.] and Hopewell [200 B.C.-A.D. 400]. By the Hopewell period funerals had become elaborate ceremonies and these mounds more than those of any other epoch are more likely to contain burials [7]. Like the Egyptian Pharaohs important people in these cultures were buried with specially carved pieces. The kinds of artifacts found in Adena period mounds include stone platform pipes shaped like a beaver and falcon, a clay figure depicting a mother and child, a stone tablet with a carved design that may have been used to stamp leather, bark or woven goods, and a tubular pipe carved in the shape of a man [8].

Mounds were rarely built all at once, but rather over time. Milner describes the building process of an Adena mound in Kentucky in this way: “the first step was to dump earth over a cremation with a circular wooden structure; soil was then deposited over the spot where the wooden structure had stood. Further soil was added to create new graves and to cap earlier groups of them to expand the mound. Some individual graves that were log tombs were added on its margins and the top …expanding its girth and increasing its height. The addition of graves stopped several times during the mound’s construction …at which point …was partially or completely covered with earth. Eventually old graves settled and log roofs collapsed. These depressions were used for new graves or were filled with soil" [9].

By the 1929 excavation the Book Indian Mound was mostly destroyed. The PHC’s archaeologist found parts of skeletons of 22 individuals, skulls and teeth mostly, bits of pottery, arrow points, several hoes and sinkers, and fragments of earthenware pipes [10]. No objects of shell, bone, or metal were found [11]. Unfortunately, according to PHMC’s head of archaeology, the photographs, bones and relics relating to the Book Mound’s excavation can’t be located for further study, so we must be satisfied with knowing only that this mound was constructed by a Native American culture that existed long before Columbus set sail in 1492.

The Book Indian Mound has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986 [12]. Because it is listed on the National Register and because it is an Indian Burial Ground it is protected by Pennsylvania’s “Historic Burial Places Preservation Act [Title 9 P.S. 202 through 205] which makes it a misdemeanor to destroy, mutilate, or remove any tomb, monument or gravestone from a historic burial site. Upon conviction, such a person can be fined not more than $2,500, or imprisoned for not more that one year or both [13].

In March 2005 unknown persons tampered with the monument’s plaque causing it to crack. Some of the stones from the monument were pried out as well. This was reported to the State Police and to PHMC.

[1] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fifth Report of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission 1931, pg. 102.
[2] Shaffer, Lynda Norene, Native American’s Before 1492, The Moundbuilding Centers of the Eastern Woodlands, M. E. Sharpe Armonk, New York, 1992 ,pg. 3
[3] Shaffer,pg. 6
[4] Shaffer, pg.19
[5] Shaffer, pg. 39
[6] Shaffer, pg 45
[7] Shaffer, Pg 47 pg 2
[8] Shaffer, Figures 7,8,9,11,12.
[9] Milner, George R. The Moundbuidlers Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America Thames and Hudson Ltd.London, 2004,pg. 58-59
[10] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fifth Report of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission 1931, pg. 104-109
[11] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, pg.109-110.
[12] National Park service Web Site, National Trust sites in Pennsylvania
[13] Indian Burial and Sacred Grounds Watch,
The Law and American Indian Grave Protection, Pennsylvania Law Pg. 5


This was the headline that blazed across the Thursday, August 22, 1929 edition of the Juniata Sentinel. That summer, the Pennsylvania Historical Commission began an excavation and studies of the Indian mound that took place over a ten week period beginning early in August. It was then that the mound acquired its name since Holmes and Charles Book owned the land on which it was situated. The excavation is described in four newspaper articles published in the Juniata Tribune beginning with August 22nd, 1929. The following is a synopsis of those articles.

This Indian burial mound has probably existed for hundreds of years. While no one knows its exact size when first discovered, The History Of…The Susquehanna and Juniata Valleys… published in 1886 noted that local residents reported it to be as high as 15 feet and that it covered an eighth of an acre. Others said it was 12 feet high and one hundred feet in diameter with an oval base. When The History was published, the mound was 30 feet long and 20 wide and its origins were thought to be the result of a battle between two hostile Indian tribes. Early landowners, disregarding its significance to the Native American culture, scattered most of the contents of the mound over their fields as fertilizer. Others, such as students from the Tuscarora Academy in Academia, searched the mound and removed Indian relics. [1]

Dr. Robert R. Jones and Mr. Junius Bird, who assisted him, were the excavation team. Mr. Alton Beale, a local resident, also assisted. The excavation was done under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. Utilizing “small picks, shovels, trowels and even paint brushes, whisk brooms and small bladed pocket knives” the site was excavated by digging three trenches from a starting point working “toward the center of the mound until evidences of skeletons” were found. The site was also surveyed to “aid the researchers in keeping their minute notes in which is recorded the exact spot of a find, its depth, position and type of surrounding soil.” [2]

The two anthropologists unearthed parts of many skeletons and a large quantity of broken pottery. The author of the news article described this type of burial mound as the ‘mass’ or bundle method of burial. After death, the body was placed on a platform or among the branches of a tree. At certain prescribed times or when the tribe migrated, the bleached bones were gathered together and buried in a common mound. Sometimes the bones of an individual would be wrapped in an animal skin, other times the bones of many individuals were buried together. [3]

Finding this method of burial was not particularly helpful in identifying the tribe that created the mound as both Algonquin and Iroquois were known to use this practice. However, the anthropologist at the site identified the pottery as belonging to the Algonquin tribe, which put into question, the old assumption that the mound belonged to the Tuscarora tribe, as they were Iroquois. [2]

All of the pottery, skeletons and other artifacts were prepared for shipment to the State Museum at Harrisburg where they were to be studied. The mound was to be returned to its former size and shape and Dr. Jones had “secured a granite marker which will be erected on the site” and “properly engraved with the date of the excavation” and “a little of the local history”. [4]

The excavation was of great interest to the local population especially on the weekend of August 31- September 1 when 2000 people visited during the annual Indian Mound Picnic. [2]

The Book Indian Mound, in Beale Township, near ‘Bryner’s Bridge’, lies just off Rt. 3019, in the midst of a farm field. The marker at the site states “here lie the remains of twenty-six Indians excavated by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission”.

DIRECTIONS: From Mifflintown, take SR 3002 [Old Rt. 22] towards Mexico. Turn right at the intersection of Rt. 75 and drive south/west through Port Royal. Look for Academia signs. At the Spruce Hill Lunch, the road forks, Rt. 75 is the left fork and SR 3013 is the right fork. Take the right fork SR 3013. Drive approximately 1.5-2 miles to the stop sign, intersection of SR 3013 and SR 3008. Turn left and drive 1.4 miles, turning left at SR 3019. Drive 0.4 miles; the Indian Mound is in the field on the right. [This is private property]

[1] History Of That Part Of The Susquehanna And Juniata Valleys Embraced In The Counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union And Snyder In The Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania, Volume I, Everts, Peck & Richards, Philadelphia, 1886, pg. 790-791.

[2] Microfilm of Juniata Tribune, Mifflintown, PA November 22, 1928 to June 4, 1931, Juniata Tribune August 22, 1929 pg. 1, Juniata County Historical Society, Mifflintown, Pa 17059

[3] Ibid, Juniata Tribune September 5, 1929, pg. 1

[4] Ibid, Juniata Tribune September 19, 1929, pg. 1

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