Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (2023)

Indians ofprecolonial North AmericaHe built thousands of mounds across the continent, serving various purposes, sometimes reaching heights of over 100 feet. Many of the hills were prosperous urban centers, such asCocoain Illinois, while others appear to have strictly religious/ritual purposes, as in the case ofPinson HillSin Tennessee.

European settlers, unaware of what the mounds were and regularly mistaking them for naturally formed mounds, destroyed many out of ignorance, while others were deliberately cleared to make way for cities and towns.CityExtensions and more have been looted for sale at the antiques market and thus badly damaged or demolished. Even if these mounds were understood as important models of the ancient native culturearchitecture, landowners still destroyed them to prevent the state or other authorities from trying to take their land for conservation purposes.

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Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (1)

Many hill sites remain in the United States today, some protected as archaeological parks, others on private land, and each offers a different insight into the cultures of the various Native American nations that built them. A little-known place like Man Mound in Wisconsin is just as important as a better-known one likesnake saddlein Ohio. The following list necessarily omits many important sites, but those selected were chosen for the type they represent and their contribution to a better understanding of Native American cultures.

It is now known that different Native American cultures created the mounds at different times using similar methods.

periods and places

The mounds were built from c. 5000 BC to Europecolonizationwhich in this case is usually given as c. 1540 AD, when the Spanishconqueror Hernando Soto(l. c. 1500-1542) took his army to the regions of modern-day Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi—all with hills—in search oforand the de Soto expedition records the natives living on or near these great hills. De Soto killed several natives when they failed to turn over the gold he claimed they were hiding, but he did more damage by spreading European diseases to which the natives had no immunity. When European explorers later came to the region, the indigenous people had no idea who built the mounds because their ancestors, who had kept the nation's history alive through oral tradition, were long dead. The ten sites presented below that illustrate this tradition are:

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  • Freno Watsonand (Louisiana, c. 3500 BC)
  • poverty point(Louisiana, ca. 1700-1100 n. Chr.)
  • snake saddle(Ohio, built ca. 320 n. Chr. oder ca. 1000-1750 n. Chr.)
  • effigy mound(Iowa, ca. 500 dC-1000 dC)
  • Pinson Hill(Tennessee, ca. 1-200 n. Chr.)
  • Observatory Hill(Wisconsin, ca. 500-1200 n. Chr.)
  • Cocoa(Illinois, ca. 600-ca. 1350 n. Chr.)
  • Etowah(Georgia, ca. 1000-1550 AD)
  • Hügelville(Alabama, ca. 1100-ca. 1450 n. Chr.)
  • Spiro Mountains(Oklahoma, ca. 900-1450 AD)

It was not until the 19th century that descendants of the first European immigrants took an interest in the mounds, refusing at the time to believe that they were built by Native Americans, who were considered "too simple" to have reached such a large scale. . Company. Although scholars and intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries acknowledged the mounds as being of "native origin", it was not until the mid-20th century that this claim became widely accepted.

Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (2)

It is now known that different Native American cultures created the mounds using similar methods at different times, beginning in thearchaic time(c. 8000-7900 BC), on through the Woodland Period (c. 500 BC - 1100 AD), and into the Mississippi Periodcultural(ca. 1100-1540 AD). All mounds, regardless of their original purpose, are characterized by a high level of technical engineering, evidence of a large workforce, and some sort of central authority directing logistics, supplies, and construction.

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A wider recognition of the importance of the mounds only began in the early 20th century.

Freno Watson

The oldest surviving mound in North America is Watson Brake in northeast Louisiana. The site includes eleven hills connected by ridges and was built during theArchaicPeriod around 3500 BC C. (which makes it older than theThe Great Pyramid of Giza, from the reign of King Cheops, 2589-2566 BC. c). The site was built and inhabited by a hunter-gatherer culture that also made tools and pottery, and made a living from fishing on the Ouachita River and its tributaries. The purpose of the mounds is unclear as they were not usedBurial, residences or ritual ceremonies. The site was not discovered until the 1980s by a local resident, Reca Bamburg Jones, after the forest had been removed from land and made visible. Archaeological Conservation bought part of the site in 1996, but another part is still owned by the family, who have owned it since the 1950s and refuse to sell it or open it to the public, but allow professional excavation.

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poverty point

Poverty Point takes its name from the 19th-century plantation of Phillip Guier, who tilled the land on which the hills stand, unaware that the "hills" were man-made. No one really understood this until 1953, when an aerial photograph showed that the small "hills" were six C-shaped ridges built in front of a central plaza with six larger hills surrounding the ridges. The site was recognized as a Native American "village" as early as the 1830s based on artifacts found there, but the ridges and hills were considered natural formations. The ridges were gradually built over several generations and served dwelling purposes (houses were built on them), while the mounds were built rapidly (Mountain A in less than three months) and served other purposes, including religious rituals. The center of the place is the square where a solar calendar stood on wooden poles and where rituals were probably also performed. The so-called Poverty Point Culture that established the site were also hunter-gatherers, making tools and artifacts like Watson Brake, but there is more evidence from afar.Ersatzon this site than on the previous one.

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Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (3)

snake saddle

Serpent Mound is a 411 meter high terrestrial representation of a serpent built on a flat plateau. Archaeologists are still unsure as to its date, as it was originally thought to be a product of the Adena culture (c. 800 BC-1 AD - 1750 AD). The site contains no artifacts conclusively linking it to either and may have been started by the former and completed by the latter who inhabited the region and created other mound structures. Carbon dating of the coal found in the mound dates to at least a section of 1070 AD C. which some scholars claim definitively dates this entire period, believing it was created around Halley's Comet to reflect, which appeared in 1066 AD. C. and was observable from that point long enough to impress. The "snake" head is aligned with the summer solstice, while the spirals are aligned with the sunrise and winter solstice equinoxes. There is no doubt that it was built for astronomical purposes, but who built it remains a matter of debate.

Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (4)

effigy mound

Image mounds derive their name from the shape of the mounds, which fully depict or feature effigies of bears, birds, and other animals. The mounds are attributed to various Native American nations who labored over many generations, although some of the more than 200 mounds show evidence of fairly rapid construction. The site is one of the largest in North America with a variety of mound types. The most famous bear mound, Great Bear Mound, is 137 feet long and 70 feet wide and features several bears lined up. The mounds are believed to have been primarily ceremonial (although some were used for burials) and the animal symbols represented the totemic forces associated with the particular nations working on the site.

Pinson Hill

It is believed that the Pinson Mounds were built and used solely for religious/ceremonial purposes as there is no evidence of permanent habitation, just an area of ​​temporary residence adjacent to the mounds as one would expect at a pilgrimage site. Although 30 mounds were recorded there in the early 20th century, some of them turned out to be natural formations and the site currently has 15 mounds. The largest is Saul's Mound (named after the property's owner, John Sauls), which is 22 meters high. Some mounds show evidence of burials, but overall they appear to have been used for religious purposes by Woodland period people, possibly ancestors of theChickasawNation that owned the country in the 19th century. Ozier mound, the second largest at the site, has been positively identified for ritual purposes, while other mounds were used for burial and the purpose of others is still unknown.

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Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (5)

Observatory Hill

On what is now Observatory Hill (on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus) there were once at least five mounds, two of which remain today, one in the form of a large bird and the other known as the Spirit of the Two-Tailed Water The other mounds became was destroyed between 1900 and 1922 when the university expanded its campus, and it is certain that a Native American village or pueblo was once located on the site based on artifacts discovered there and previous accounts. Existing mounds, such as that of Effigy, are believed to represent the totemic energies associated with the builders; the image of the bird that channels air and wind, and the spirit of the two tails, the gift of water. However, without the context of the other hills, these hills are difficult to interpret.

Montes de Cahokia

The Cahokia Mounds is the most famous mound landscape in the United States and one of the most impressive. Cahokia is named after the tribe that lived near the site in the 19th century AD. C., the original name is unknown, but between c. 600-approx. By 1350 AD the city was the largest urban center on the North American continent and engaged in long-distance trade in all directions. The city is believed to have developed in response to a request from the priestly class to help build Monk's Mound, the tallest on the site, which required 814,000 cubic yards of soil and reached a height of 100 feet (30 m) . ). ). Of the 120 mounds that were erected, 80 survive today and were once part of a complex which also had ball courts, a large plaza, a solar calendar (now known as Woodhenge, 48 wooden posts around a central post), residential and commercial buildings. Districts and fields of different crops. The cultivation of corn favored the growth of the city, which took advantage of the surplus in trade. The artifacts and tools unearthed at the site so far show a high level of sophistication, which is reflected in the engineering prowess demonstrated by the construction of the mounds.

Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (6)

Montes Etowah

The Etowah Hills were built in three phases during the Mississippi cultural period, and six of them exist today. Three platform mounds appear to have been used for ritual purposes and the smaller mounds for dwellings. Hill A is 19 m high and covers 3 acres. Temples with courtyards crowned the mounds surrounding a central plaza used for commercial purposes and a ball court for the game known as chunkey. The entire city was surrounded by a wooden palisade with watchtowers spaced 2m apart, suggesting that the people lived in fear of invasionconquestfrom other indigenous peoples. This observation is supported bycaveGoods that include ceremonial and everyday weapons. The site is best known for the discovery of male and female statues depicting a seated cross-legged man and a kneeling woman, representing the ancestral spirits of the peoples and likely used in religious rituals.

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Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (7)
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Moundville is the second largest site of its kind in the United States, after Cahokia, with 28 platform mounds, once topped by apartment buildings, facing a plaza with a central mound (Mound A) rising 60 feet (18 m) with two ramps on either side. The elite and nobility lived in houses on the hilltops, while the lower classes lived across the square in thatched huts. The architecture of the site is believed to reflect social class, literally elevating the upper class above others on artificial mountains. Mount A sits directly overlooking the nearby Black Warrior River, suggesting that the celebrations held there honored the four elements: water, air, fire (the sun), and earth. As with many of these mounds, Moundville's original name has been lost and, like the others, was abandoned prior to European settlement. This was likely due to overpopulation and depletion of resources.

Ten Great Native American Mountain Sites (8)

Spiro Mountains

The Spiro Mounds, of which 12 exist today, were built in four phases and were completed before c. 1250 AD Nine of the mounds surround a central plaza with a larger mound (Brown Mound) in the center which served a religious/ceremonial purpose. These ceremonies seem to focus on the funeral rites of community leaders and clergy (often, though not always, alike). The other two existing mounds (Craig Mound and The Great Mortuary) were used for burials and had inner caves specially designed for the storage of various artefacts such as feathered bonnets and headgear, furs and feathered cloaks, and wooden statues orcopperas well as other parts. Craig Mound was sacked and partially destroyed between 1933 and 1935 by a group who bought temporary excavation rights from the landowner and then, when they were finished, for unknown reasons, deliberately blew up the mound's central chamber. Most of the artifacts looted at the time were lost to the antique market. The population declined at the point between c. AD 1250-c.1450 when it was abandoned.


As noted earlier, 18th- and 19th-century European and American scholars refused to believe that Native Americans had built the thousands of mounds that dot the North American landscape because they viewed the Native Americans as "primitive savages" without the skills and abilities contemplated the vision required for such. monumental work. Scholar Charles C. Mann comments:

Writers of the 19th century wrote about the hills to the Chinese, Welsh,Phoenicianthe lost nation ofAtlantis, and various biblical characters. A popular theory attributed authorship to Scandinavian émigrés, who later acquired interests, moved to Mexico, and became the Toltecs. (289-290)

Scholars have consistently dismissed these possibilities and have coined the terms "hill builders", "hill people" and "hill culture" to refer to an unknown race that once inhabited the earth, who established connections and left, never to return. It has been claimed that Native Americans came and took over the land, or perhaps even conquered the "hill tribes" and took over their land, which helped justify European colonial lands stealing from the natives as they should have done. the same with them. other mysterious people.

This absurdity was not refuted until 1894CiroThomas of the Bureau of American Ethnology, an official appointed by the US government to resolve the matter, authoritatively stated that the mounds were the creation of Native Americans. With Thomas taking the government's view, the matter was formally decided, but little effort was made at this point to preserve the sites or return them to the descendants of the indigenous nations who built them, many of whom continue to cherish these sites. like holy ground.

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A wider recognition of the mounds' importance only began in the early 20th century, after amateur archaeologists such as C.B. Moore (l. 1852-1936) - began excavating sites, removing artifacts and publishing his findings. Laws were then enacted to protect the mounds from looting, but since many were on private land, the authorities could do nothing. Private individuals sometimes bought the burial sites for preservation and then turned them over to their respective state governments, and these increasingly became archaeological parks dedicated to the preservation and deeper understanding of the great mound.citiesand ceremonial centers of the First Nations of North America.

editorial reviewThis article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability, and compliance with academic standards prior to publication.


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