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Fascinating Information About the Mound Builders

Neha B Deshpande Mar 20, 2020
United States has a rich archaeological history to boast of - thanks to the prehistoric native Americans of various cultures, who were named as mound builders due to the mounds built for ceremonial, burial or religious purposes. Read ahead for some interesting information about the same.

The Bird-shaped Mound

The largest mound of Poverty Point, 'Mound A' resembles a flying bird, and its height is 70 feet (21m), width is 640 feet (195 m) along the wing, and 710 feet (216m) from head to tail.
Archaeological experts believe that Native American tribes build mounds or structures that depicted large animals and flat or conical structures or other geometrical patterns. These tribes had a rich history, and the main intention behind building these mounds was said to be for religious purposes and as burial places.
The Native Americans who build them―known as Mound Builders―belonged to various cultures such as the Poverty Point, Adena, Hopewell and the Mississippian culture. The Cahokians of the Mississippian culture boast of complicated mound structures, which suggests an advanced urban layout of their villages.
These mounds have been recognized as a national heritage and have been an intriguing subject for archaeologists Excavation projects have bought to light many artifacts and cremated bodies of these ancient cultures. Today, they are preserved by museums and archaeological sites.
Let's see some interesting information of the Mississippian Mound Builders and their mounds, which have given Americans a rich history in the field of archaeology. The Mound Builders typically consisted of 4 cultures―Poverty Point, Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippian; mainly differentiated on the basis of location and period of their civilization.


Poverty Point: Mainly flourished in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and a little parts of Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida.

Adena: Belonging to Ohio majorly, traces were also found in Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Hopewell: Located at the Illinois river valley, the Mississippi river valley, and other valleys of the Midwest and East.

Mississippian: Moundville in Alabama; Etowah and Ocmulgee in Georgia; Hiwassee Island in Tennessee; Spiro in Oklahoma; Belcher in Louisiana; Aztalan in Wisconsin; and Mount Royal in Florida.


Poverty Point: Hunting was the main source, it is not traceable whether farming was carried out. Freshwater fish such as gar, catfish, gaspergou, bass, sunfish, etc. (source - Louisiana Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism, article by Jon L. Gibson)

Adena: This culture started showing early traces of farming activities in Ohio.
Hopewell: Preferred freshwater fish and animals such as deer, turkey, bison, beaver, duck, etc.

Mississippian: This culture showed signs of farming activities, crops included squash, corn, pumpkins, etc.


Poverty Point:

¤ Hunting tools such as motley, epps, pontchartrain. Atlatl weights: gorgets, and tablets

¤ Digging and chopping tools such as gouges, adzes, axes, and drills

¤ Stone ornaments such as pendants, beads and effigies.

¤ The unique Adena Pipe with a human form has become very famous, which is about 8 inches long. It was found by William C. Mills in Chillicothe. Currently, it is kept at Ohio Historical Society at Columbus. Along with it, many bird- and animal-shaped pipes were also found.
¤ Various extractions were found at the Adele Mound, which include artifacts such as bracelets, bone and shell beads, rings, spear points etc.

¤ Cahokian pottery and utensils such as head pots, beakers, jars found depict various human forms and animals.


Poverty Point: Archaeologists have found traces of objects engraved with certain significant symbols like those resembling a fox or a duck. (Louisiana Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism, by J. L. Gibson)

Hopewell: It also exhibits religious rituals such as shamanistic religion, sacrifice, etc., through its artifacts such as effigies and pipes.
Most of the mound builders' artifacts depict symbols and pictures, and there are no written scriptures that provide information about their religion. Though, it has also been speculated that the mounds were constructed as part of the preparation for afterlife.

Famous Mounds

Adena Mound: Found at the site of Thomas Worthington's farm, it was stated that this mound contained 36 human remains, which composed mainly of adult males, and 2 or 3 children.

Mound 'A' of Poverty Point: It is huge in size and resembles a shape of a bird.
Monk's Mound at Cahokia: Cahokia is located in Illinois, and the Cahokia Mound site is recognized as a World Heritage Site and has also been recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
The UNESCO Website mentions Cahokia Mounds as the largest pre-Columbian archaeological site. Cahokia culture displays complex layouts of the structures, indicating a pre-urban approach to their building.

Inspiration for Names

The Adena culture is named for archaeological convenience, since the mound from which the artifacts and cremated bodies were found was known as the Adena Mound.
The Hopewell name was given by the property owner Mordecai Cloud Hopewell, on whose property the excavation was carried out under the direction of Warren K. Moorehead. Poverty Point is named after a cotton plantation which was established in the late 1830s.

Gradual depletion of the mound builders' tribes and the mounds

It is not known how the mound builders stopped existing―perhaps it was war, or disease, or some internal conflicts which came their way. Unfortunately, earlier, the need to preserve these mounds were not felt, and many were leveled for the sake of farming.
However, now, they have come under the purview of many preservation laws, and it is prohibited to disturb any of the mounds or other extractions found in them, without the permission of legal authorities.
Well, history has to be preserved for the future generations so that they are able to witness the rich cultural history that they possess. As the efforts of archaeologists continue, it will be also intriguing for us to know more and learn from the study of these structures.
What we can do is to keep ourselves aware of our past, and make efforts in our own way to preserve them, by following government guidelines regarding the same.