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14 October 2003
Important new findings in Louisiana

Earthen mounds on an island in the cypress swamps of Lousiana (USA) are being re-evaluated by a postgraduate student from Louisiana State University. Two mounds on King George Island, on the King George Bayou to the north of Lake Maurepas, were first identified in the 1950s and surveyed in the 1970s and 1980s. Work then stopped until Fiona Vasbinder decided to investigate the mounds for her Master’s thesis. On her first visit to the Livingston Parish site in April 2003, “shovel tests” revealed a midden that has been radiocarbon dated to around 3023 BCE. During a second visit in early October 2003 Vasbinder and her crew discovered an additional two mounds, together with a man made crescent ridge that connected all four mounds. All told the site extends to 300 by 80 metres. The highest of the mounds is 8.25 feet tall.
     The crescent ridge was thought initially to be a natural levee, but tests have shown that the ridge soil is different from the underlying soil, indicating that it was artificially constructed. The ridge is similar to six crescent-shaped ridges at Poverty Point in north Louisiana, which date to a more modern period. Vasbinder’s supervisor, LSU archaeology professor Rebecca Saunders, speculates that the King George Island site may be a precursor to Poverty Point.
     Vasbinder will try to determine whether the mounds were built for ceremonial or funerary purposes, or simply as territorial markers. There are hundreds of mounds in Louisiana, dating from 400 to 5,000 years old. In the southeast of the state, surveys have been carried out on 24 that are thought to be of the same age as those on King George Island – from the middle to late Archaic period (7000 to 3000 BCE). “Until about 10 years ago, most archaeologists thought people of the middle to late Archaic period could not build mounds,” says Saunders. It was thought that mound builders had to have leaders to organise the work teams and agriculture to feed the labourers. But research on the now-destroyed Monte Sano mounds north of the state Capitol, and the findings from the LSU site, have made it necessary to re-think the capabilities of the Archaic egalitarian hunter-gatherers. One of the Monte Sano mounds, dated at 6,500 years old, was the only Archaic mound with evidence of human burial.
     “The mounds are so old, it’s impossible to link them with a specific tribe,” says Saunders, who suspects that the site may have had a religious or cosmological use. Archaeological material includes flaked stones and pottery sherds. Because most of the sherds are undecorated plain fired-clay it is impossible to determine whether the pottery was contemporary with the building phase or came to the site a thousand years later. A very few decorated sherds show that Muscoghean-speaking peoples visited the site sometime after 1400 CE, at least 3,000 years after the mounds were built.
     Vasbinder and her 10-man crew plan a third and final visit to the site this month. Work will include further mapping of the site, and drilling to retrieve deep soil samples.

Source: 2theadvocate.com (12 October 2003)

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