Thursday, June 27, 2013

The First #American #Moundbuilders: Poverty Point

Mound at Poverty Point
By:Michael Homan
The First Moundbuilders:
Poverty Point pt.1

Welcome back. On Tuesday I introduced you to the first mound builders north of Mexico, the Watson Break Culture of Louisiana. Today we're going to take a look at another early mound complex located in Louisiana, Poverty Point. Poverty Point has been described by the National Historical Landmarks Program as "the largest and most complex Late Archaic earthwork occupation and ceremonial site yet found in North America." The site is being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Poverty Point was constructed between 1750 to 1350 BC on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River Delta and the Bayou Macon. Bayou Macon did not exist at the time of Poverty Point's occupation instead a small lake was there that provided raw material, wood and a transportation route to the Mississippi and beyond.

The Poverty Point site is comprised of six rings and six mounds that stretch over 910 acres. The largest mound, The Great Mound, measures 80 feet high. Anthropologist T.R. Kidder, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri believes the Poverty Point complex was constructed within 90 days with about 3,000 laborers. His theory contradicts what is generally believed about Archaic man. Kidder stated to Live Science on February 4, 2013, "Given that a band of 25-30 people is considered quite large for most hunter-gatherer communities, it's truly amazing that this ancient society could bring together a group of nearly 10,000 people, find some way to feed them and get this mound built in a matter of months. These results contradict the popular notion that pre-agricultural people were socially, politically, and economically simple and unable to organize themselves into large groups that could build elaborate architecture or engage in so-called complex social behavior."

The Poverty Point Site

The mounds and rings at Poverty Point were probably higher than they are today. The tops of the mounds and ridges are flat because they have endured 100 years of farming and 3000 years of erosion. There is evidence that the Poverty Point culture had faced erosion of the site during there time as well and did everything they could to prevent it. During the Civil War, soldiers dug into the Great Mound to form trenches and after the war Jonesville residents leveled many of the mounds by building on top of them. In 1931, Louisiana used what remained of the Great Mound to build a ramp to the Black River. There are probably more mounds that have been destroyed throughout the years. The ridges would have stood 10 to 12 feet high but today they are barely noticeable.  Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne has requested $750,000 in emergency state funding to limit erosion at Poverty Point.

According the researchers, it would have taken at least 300,000 cubic feet of dirt to construct one mound. So how did these Late Archaic move so much dirt without a dump truck? Kidder believes they were able to move that much dirt in short amount of time by using the "bucket brigade system." According to his theory, over 9,000 prehistoric Native Americans passed soil down a line of people using a crude container such as a hide sack, woven basket or wooden platter. That's alot of man power for the Late Archaic period.

The Poverty Point Culture thrived in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas between 1730 to 1350 BC. Unlike the Watson Break site, the Poverty Point site was occupied year long and was a highly sophisticated city. Archaeological evidence shows the site contained anywhere between 600 to 800 huts that housed between 1,200 to 4,000 people. That's alot of people in one settlement for the Late Archaic Period, especially for a hunter-gatherer culture.

Join me Tuesday as we discuss more about the Poverty Point site and culture.

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