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September 16, 2013

NEAL: Ice Age made modern Indiana

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana bicentennial in December 2016. The essays will focus on the top 100 events, ideas and historical figures of Indiana.

Long before Indiana was Indiana, a river of ice glided across the state, bringing with it monsoon-like rains, mudflows to rival Mount St. Helens and rich sediment deposits that to this day nourish the crops that are the backbone of the Hoosier economy.

Indiana the state has been 200 years in the making. Indiana the place goes back 2 million years to a time when ice sheets blanketed the middle latitudes and shaped the landscape we know today.

Virtually all aspects of modern Indiana were “in one way or another affected by some facet of the Ice Age,” said geologist Anthony Fleming.

Consider the following:

• The rivers that attracted Native American settlements and later the pioneers, that carried flatboats filled with trade goods and powered gristmills and sawmills, are former glacial rivers that drained the melting ice sheets.

• Huge holes carved by advancing glaciers became the Great Lakes. These, along with the St. Lawrence River, linked Indiana to the Atlantic Ocean and Europe.

• Vast ice sheets deposited nutrient-rich soil and then flattened it, giving central and northern Indiana some of the nation’s most productive farmland.

• Aquifers formed during the Ice Age provide most of the water we need for household use and for industry.

To picture Indiana during the Ice Age, Hoosiers must set aside familiar images of forested wilderness and checkerboard farm fields. Instead, conjure up a massive piece of ice molding the land like a potter modeling clay and ending where the hills of southern Indiana begin. Then imagine the ice’s retreat, following by trickles then gushes of running water

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