The First Moundbuilders:
Poverty Point pt.2Considered one of the most unusual archaeological sites in North America, Louisiana's Poverty Point Site is a very important site to consider when studying the Moundbuilding cultures.
Last time we visited upon the Poverty Point site I introduced you to their mound system and how the Late Archaic people may have built the site. You can see a map of their site on the left hand side. Poverty Point was an important cultural and governmental center for the Poverty Point culture. What sets this site apart as a distinctively unique and interesting for archaeologists who study Late Archaic sites is that fact that the site even exists. During the Late Archaic period all the Native American bands who lived north of Mexico were nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was once believed these groups were not capable of building large settlements because they were always on the move. It is generally agricultural groups that build large, complex settlements such as Watson Break yet this idea is being challenged. Do we have it all wrong? Were the first Native American groups building large settlements only we have no idea they have done so because years of erosion and farming have destroyed the evidence or is Poverty Point a site that stood out challenging the rest of the hunter-gathering groups to change?
Poverty Point and the Caddo
The Poverty Point site was known to historic Native American groups and was considered sacred by the Caddo Nation. The Caddo Nation is a group of advanced Native Americans that had settled in East Texas along the Red River. The loose knit confederacy consisted of a dozen tribes. The Caddo Nation culture began around 800AD during the Late Woodlands and is considered one of the Great Mississippian cultures.
The Caddo Homeland is located south of the Fort Ancient culture. Keep that Fort Ancient culture in the back of your mind. We will be talking about them in another series as the Shawnee people believe the Fort Ancient culture are their ancestors.
According to Texas Beyond History, "Studies of the Caddoan languages suggest that ancestors of the Caddo and the ancestors of the Plains Caddoans (Wichita, Kichai, Pawnee, and Arikira) split from a common ancestor (ancestral group) in the distant past, at least 3,000 years ago and probably even earlier. The Caddo cultural tradition as recognized now by archeologists begins about 1200 years ago (A.D. 800)." 12,000-13,500 years ago very mobile hunter-gather peoples inhabited the area that became the Caddo Homeland. You can learn more about Caddo archaeological sites by visiting Texas Beyond History's Caddo Ancestors
The earliest humans to visit the Poverty Point site after it was abandoned was a 12th century Caddo Medicine Man who was buried with artifacts such as two red stone beads, a slate pendant and a hematite plummet from the Poverty Point site. His grave was located at Mounds Plantation, a prehistoric Caddo village located 40 miles west of the Poverty Point site.
Poverty Point and Archaeology
The Poverty Point site was first discovered in the 1830's by Jacob Walter. Jacob Walter had written about the site in his diary after he came across it while searching for lead ore. During the Civil War parts of the site's mounds were used to build trenches. Poverty Point was brought to public attention when archaeologist and former Confederate officer, Samuel Lockett, published an account about the site in 1873. He was a prolific creative artist whose writings caught the attention of many people during his lifetime.
The first archaeological investigation was completed by Clarence Bloomfield Moore from 1911 -1912. He published the first archaeological survey of the site in 1913 simply describing the site as containing six mounds. It was later investigated further by Gerard Fowke of the Smithsonian Institution in 1926, by Clarence H. Webb in 1935, and by Michael Beckman in 1946.
From 1952 to 1953, archaeologists Robert Neitzel and James A. Ford conducted aeriel surveys of Poverty Point's geometric configuration of the concentric rings. The geometric configuration had not been previously known about because it was invisible from the ground. The aerial survey not only revealed the geometric configuration but also that part of the mounds Moore had discovered were part of the ridge system. The survey also disproved the long held belief that the six rings had been natural created. In 1956, James A. Ford published his findings in his publication, Poverty Point, a Late Archaic Site in Louisiana. Jon L. Gibson of the University of Southwestern Louisiana published Poverty Point on behalf of the Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission. The second edition was released in May of 1996. You can read it here: http://www.crt.state.la.us/archaeology/virtualbooks/poverpoi/popo.htm
Poverty Point was extensively mapped in 1999-2000 by archaeologist Tristram Kidder, who has continued to lead archaeological field schools and excavations on the site throughout the 21st century.