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The Mound Builders

The Mound Builders Gallery Index Go Down Go Back
The Wetland Cultures
The wetland cultures collectively called mound builders are those who originally walked onto this continent from the eastern hemisphere across a land bridge now referred to as Beringia. These first wayfarers then spread throughout the western hemisphere, diversifying into hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes.
Some of these people, after arriving in the eastern area of this continent, and during several thousand years of habitation, constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious, ceremonial, burial, and elite residential purposes.
These structures were typically flat-topped pyramids or platform mounds, flat-topped or rounded cones, elongated ridges, and sometimes a variety of other forms. They were generally built as part of complex villages that arose from more dense populations, with a specialization of skills and knowledge.
Earthen mounds compared
with stone pyramids
Two earthen mounds shown above in green (Monks Mound at Cahokia in Illinois and Mound A at Etawah in Georgia) are displayed in actual same scale models with some of the largest and most well known stone pyramid structures. Notice the footprint that is measured in acres.
When a comparison is made between Monks Mound and the largest Egyptians stone pyramid, the conclusion is that Monks mound has a larger foot print.
The Ancients
The Mound Builders
(m1mo-aa-serpentmound) Great Serpent Mound Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Also, effigy mounds were constructed in the shapes or outlines of culturally significant animals. The most famous effigy mound, Serpent Mound in southern Ohio (39.025100, -83.430500), ranges from 1 foot to just over 3 feet tall (30–100 cm), 20 feet (6 m) wide, over 1,330 feet (405 m) long, and shaped as an undulating serpent.

The Wayfarer Period Go Down Go Up
The Wayfarer Period (before 1000 BCE)
In the western hemisphere, building of complex earthwork mounds started at an early date, well before the pyramids of Egypt were built. The earliest earthworks called Wilson Brake, began being built in Louisiana about 3500 BCE and is the only ones known to be built during the Wayfarer period, then a hunter-gatherer culture.
The Watson Brake site demonstrates that the pre-agricultural, pre-ceramic cultures in the western hemisphere were more complex than previously thought. While primarily hunter-gatherers, they were able to plan and organize large work forces over centuries to accomplish these complex mound and ridge constructions.
Watson Brake was under construction nearly 2,000 years before the better known Poverty Point of 1500 BCE, both of which are in northeastern Louisiana.

During the early wayfarer period, people are primarily nomadic hunter-gatherers with economies supported through the exploitation of nuts, seed and shellfish.
As time progresses, exploitation of wetland resources resulted in the creation of large shell middens, (piles of shells) found along rives and some coastlines.
The end of the Wayfarer period is defined by the adoption of sedentary farming.

The Woodland Period Go Down Go Up
The Woodland Period (1000 BCE through 1000 CE)
During the Woodland period, many tools are developed using stone and bones. Use of spears and the atlatl continued until the development of the bow and arrows.
Also, pottery manufacturing is extensively with increasing sophistication. Nomadic nature gives way to permanently occupied villages as agriculture begins to be developed.
Numerous separate cultures develop across the bottomlands of the fertile river valley plains of the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Arkansas, Red and Tennessee rivers.
The end of this period gives rise to the massive settlements of the Mississippian Period.

Some good examples of this period are the Adena culture sites of Ohio, West Virginia, and nearby states. Also, the subsequent Hopewell culture sites in present-day Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, are renowned for there geometric earthworks.
The Adena and Hopewell are not the only mound builders during this period. There are contemporaneous mound building cultures throughout the eastern part of this continent, stretching as far south as Crystal River in Western Florida.
During this time period, in parts of present-day Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, the Hopewellian Marksville culture declines and give way to the Baytown culture. Possible reasons for decline include conflicts with other tribes or the impact of severe climatic changes undermining agriculture.
The Coles Creek culture is a late Woodland culture (700-1200 CE) in the lower Mississippi valley marking significant changes in the area population and cultural complexity. Political control increases during the end of the Coles Creek period.
Although many of the classic traits of chiefdom societies have not yet begun to be manifested, by 1000 CE the formation of a simple elite ruling class has begun. Coles Creek sites are found in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas. The Coles Creek culture is ancestral to the Plaquemine culture of the Mississippian Period.

The Mississippian Period Go Down Go Up
The Mississippian period (from 900 CE through 1700 CE)
The Mississippian cultures developes and spread through the eastern wetland parts of this continent, primarily along the river valleys. The largest regional center where this period is first clearly defined is a location close to the Mississippi River between the Illinois and Ohio rivers and is referred to today as Cahokia.
The Mississippian period is a time of substantial mound building by separate cultures each of which are composed of a series of urban settlement and villages, the largest being Cahokia.
The separate cultures are linked by a trading network which shared religious artifact and beliefs throughout the continent so that much of the social and religious beliefs and ceremonies were closely related.
The separate cultures built large platform mounds, had large scale maize based agriculture, created shell tempered pottery, developed a complex chiefdom level society creating social inequality by having a combined political and religious power held by a few or just one.

The Cahokia site (600-1400 CE) has the largest and the best-known flat-topped pyramidal structure, called Monks Mound, which at over 100 feet (30 m) tall is the largest pre-Columbian earthwork north of Mexico. At its peak in 1150 CE, Cahokia was an urban settlement with twenty to thirty thousand people, a population not exceeded by European settlements in North American until after 1800.
Fort Ancient is a culture that flourished from 1000-1650 CE among a people who predominantly inhabited land along both sides of the Ohio River and east to the mountain areas of Appalachia. Previously believed to be an expansion of the Mississippian cultures, but now, the belief is that this culture developed independently in the Mississippian period, descending from the Hopewell culture.
The Plaquemine culture (1000-1600 CE) developed in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana. Good constructions examples are found at the Medora Site in West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana and in Mississippi at the Anna, Emerald Mound, Winterville and Holly Bluff-Lake George sites.
Plaquemine culture was contemporaneous with the Middle Mississippian culture at the Cahokia site in Illinois and is considered ancestral to the historic Natchez and Taensa peoples living in the area during the mid 1700′s when encountered by Europeans.

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