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16 March 2009
An enigmatic T-shaped mound in Louisiana

About 3,300 years ago, a group of archaic period Native Americans living in what is now northeast Louisiana (USA) decided to build a great mound. Ninety days after the project was begun by the Stone Age hunters and gatherers, the T-shaped, earthen mound - 70 feet high, 1,000 feet long in one direction and 700 feet long in the other - was complete.
     The site is known today as 'Poverty Point,' a name given in the 18th century by an owner of the property. On Friday, T. R. Kidder, chair of the anthropology department at Washington University in St. Louis, told the University of Alabama Anthropology Club it is one of the most mysterious sites in the country. "It is the second-largest earthen mound in all of North America, second only to one in Illinois," he said, in a lecture titled 'The Poverty Point Paradox.'
     Like Moundville in Hale County, where a large population of Native Americans constructed several mounds about 900 years ago, Poverty Point was one of the larger organized communities of its day, Kidder said. "It was probably the largest hunter-gatherer community in all of North America, say north of Mexico," Kidder said. "But that was a very simple time of very little complexity - it was a literally a 'stone age' society - but all of a sudden and in literally a month and a half, they have organized themselves and built this great mound."
     Kidder said evidence shows that at the time there were between 1,000 and 2,000 people living in the community where the mound was constructed, "Which means that to accomplish what they did in such a short period of time, they had to recruit workers from all over the Southeast. The mound took the equivalent of 31,000 modern dump trucks of dirt to build. That's a lot of work by a lot of people. That is another paradox - how did they get all this organized and completed in only 90 days?"
     Kidder said the time it took to build the mound was established by archaeological methods that showed no erosion between the layers in the dirt. He said one theory about the location of the mound is that it covers what was a low-lying swamp. "We know swamps were associated with the underworld and were to be avoided," he said. "And at the base of the mound is fine silt we believe was put there to seal off that underworld. But there are a lot of swamps and there were a lot of archaic Native Americans who didn't bother to build mounds. There is also no evidence that anything was ever built on it, as you find in Moundville, with the various ceremonial structures and houses for the chiefs - these people had no chiefs."
     The Native Americans who lived in the area flourished for more than 1,000 years, Kidder said. "Then, shortly after the mound was built, there was dramatic climate change in the Southeast, with much flooding, which drove the hunters and gatherers who had been there so long away for good," Kidder said. "All that was left was the mound."

Source: Tuscaloosa News (7 March 2009)

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