Why and how Native Americans built mounds | Access the genealogy (2023)

When English and Scottish settlers arrived in what later became the United States, they found literally thousands of abandoned mounds and shells that looked like they had nothing to do with occupied Indian villages. The newcomers generally assumed that the "savages" were not intellectually equipped to carry out great public works. Therefore, they speculated that Europeans or advanced Middle Eastern societies once lived in the New World until they were wiped out by Native Americans. It would not be another 200 years before the public realized that some 90-95% of the societies that built these mounds either died of disease or were enslaved in the decades that followed the Spanish exploration of the region.

Some tribes in the lower Mississippi Valley still occupied mounds when French settlers arrived, so there was no French speculation about the origin of the abandoned mounds. The best known of these later mound builders were the Natchez. They also stopped building mounds after the 1720s.

"Indian Mound" is the common name for a variety of solid structures built by some of the Native American peoples of the United States. Most Native American tribes did not build mounds. Most were built in the Lower Southeast, the Ohio River Valley, the Tennessee River Valley, and the Mississippi River Valley. Some species of middens are found along the entire Atlantic coast of the United States.

Construction materials

Mounds can be built with topsoil, compacted clay, yard clean-up debris, seashells, freshwater clam shells, or field stones. All the main mounds were built with compacted earth.

construction method

All the mounds were built with individual human labor. Native Americans did not have pack animals or bulldozers. The earth, clay or stones were carried in baskets on the backs of the workers to the top or the flanks of the hill and then thrown. Hundreds of thousands of man-hours were required to build each of the largest mounds. The grenades were likely to have been thrown on the rubbish heaps there after large community celebrations.

Between AD 900 and 1600, most of the hills in the lower southeast were covered with bands of colored clay. The more advanced societies of the Lower Southeast and the Mississippi Basin had professional architects who designed structures in advance and then led work teams. Mound building in the Ohio Valley and lower southeast is believed to have occurred between 200 B.C. and 600 AD it was overseen by religious leaders.

forest uses

The earliest mounds appear to have served as public milestones for seasonal gatherings and platforms for towns. Many of the shell mounds in the southeastern interior appear to have been mere mounds of discarded freshwater shells, marking the site of annual harvests and festivals. The tombs were built in the southeast in different cultural periods. The enormous geometric earthworks of the Hopewell culture apparently determined the sites of large regional trade festivals and religious gatherings. On the other hand, the pyramidal mounds of the southeast, west of Tennessee and Louisiana were the bases of temples or important places of worship. Some pyramidal mounds, built between AD 300 and 750, were the foundations of mortuary temples where human remains were subjected to special rituals and then cremated. Beginning around the year 700 AD. C. in southern Florida, 900 d. C. further north and 1000 d. In the middle of the Mississippi River basin, the pyramidal and conical mounds were the foundations of conventional temples or the homes of important leaders. This architectural tradition continued until the 17th century, when most hilltop construction in the southeast ceased.


The oldest known mound is near Watkins Brake, LA. It consists of a ring of land more than 100 m (300 ft) in diameter with conical hills of various sizes scattered around the crest of the ring. Archaeologists believe that it was around 3500 B.C. Built as a ceremonial center for a seasonal migrant community.

Between 2500 B.C. and 1200 B.C. Many shell rings were built along the South Atlantic coast. The highest concentration of shell ring construction is on the island of Sapelo, GA, at the mouth of the Altamaha River. Some of the rings were quite large and seemed to be the bases of small towns. The most typical rings measure around an acre or more. A few shell rings were built in southern Florida, coastal New England, and the mid-Atlantic coast after most construction in the Southeast ceased.

From about 1600 B.C. From around 1000 B.C. C. until around 1000 d. C., Native Americans of the interior of the eastern United States built dome-shaped mounds of freshwater or land mussels at sites where they were seasonally harvested for fishing, shelling, or hunting. Some of these mounds may have been used for burials.

Between 1200 BC and 500 BC. Huge semicircular platforms were built in northern Louisiana and used as permanent foundations for villages. Larger villages, such as those near Poverty Point, LA, also built mounds on these animal-shaped platforms.

Between around 800 B.C. and 200 a. An ethnic group now known as the Adena People built hundreds of dome- and cone-shaped mounds in the Ohio River basin.

Concurrent with the Adena culture, the native peoples of the Southeast built many tombstones and some large natural stone effigies. They also built some cone-shaped earthen tombs.

Between 200 B.C. and 500 AD participants in the Hopewell Trading Network built mounds and earthworks. Originally, the mounds were simple cones like those of their Adena neighbors. Over time, they developed into massive and complex geometric shapes. At the end of the Hopewell period, some of its mounds resembled the lower southeast earth pyramids. Archaeologists have discovered very few Hopewell houses. The villages were apparently small seasonal settlements and contained no hills.

The native peoples of the Lower Southeast may have traded with those of the Hopewell culture, but they built durable communities and ceremonial centers that more closely resembled the architecture of the time in Mexico. Around the year 0 AD. C., a massive pyramid-shaped mound covering two acres was built on the Etowah River in northwestern Georgia. Adjacent was a large plaza, smaller hills, and houses. The village around the hill was inhabited for about 600 years. At the same time Kolomoki in southwestern Georgia was occupied, a town on up to 20 hills that appears to have been a ceremonial center. There were also large complexes in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and in northern Florida.

Around the year 300 AD. C., an advanced civilization began to develop in southern Florida, near Lake Okeechobee. Around the year 700 AD. C., large cities with dozens of mud buildings developed in the region. Some of the cities seem to have been influenced by the Mayans.

In the year 900 AD. C., a major trading center was established on the Ocmulgee River in what is now Macon, GA.efforts. Construction began on mounds of earth in the simplified forms of Mayan architecture.

Shortly after AD 1000, construction began on a massive mound near what is now St. Louis, in a place now known as Cahokia. Around this time, another large city was founded on the Etowah River in northwestern Georgia, now known as Etowah. By AD 1100, a large ceremonial city began to develop on the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa, AL. Monk's Mound in Cahokia, Mound A in Etowah, and Mound A near Tuscaloosa eventually became the largest, second largest, and third largest mounds built north of Mexico, respectively.

Between 1250 and 1300 AD there seems to have been a cultural or political change in the southeast. Mounds built after this period tended to be smaller. Most of the cities were two smaller, but the number of cities grew dramatically.

Mound building ceased in most of the Southeast by AD 1600, but continued on a smaller scale in the Mississippi River Valley for another hundred years.

Architectural forms of the hills.

  • earth rings
  • Most of the shell mounds were irregular ovals.
  • conical
  • arcuate
  • 4-sided truncated pyramids
  • Five-sided truncated pyramids
  • Oval

Because most Indian mounds in the United States have been abandoned since AD ​​1600 or earlier, erosion, cultivation, and exploratory excavation have radically altered their appearance since use. Visitors to historic sites where mounds have survived do not realize that they were once adobe structures with colorful decorative patterns on the sides. Most of the mounds also had large ceremonial ramps, or at least wooden steps, leading to the top. As a result, the remains of these massive structures are often viewed by laymen as landscaping rather than true forms of public architecture.


Dorton, Richard.fire people. Red. Georgia. 2010-2013. Copyright digital 2010-2013 por AccessGenealogy.com.


Why did Native American groups build mounds? ›

Regardless of the particular age, form, or function of individual mounds, all had deep meaning for the people who built them. Many earthen mounds were regarded by various American Indian groups as symbols of Mother Earth, the giver of life. Such mounds thus represent the womb from which humanity had emerged.

What was the purpose for the Mound Builders mounds? ›

Some mounds of this period were built to bury important members of local tribal groups. These burial mounds were rounded, dome-shaped structures that generally range from about three to 18 feet high, with diameters from 50 to 100 feet.

How did they build the mounds? ›

Construction Method

All of the mounds were built with individual human labor. Native Americans had no beasts of burden or excavation machinery. Soil, clay, or stones were carried in baskets on the backs of laborers to the top or flanks of the mound and then dumped.

What do historians believe was the main purpose of the large mounds built by Native Americans in the eastern woodlands? ›

Late Woodland people of the pre-historic Hopewell Culture built mounds for religious and ceremonial, burial, and elite residential purposes. It is estimated that 10,000 bushels of earth were moved into the area to construct the mounds. Some mounds are 42 feet across and others 50 feet high.

Why was the mound built and what did it contain? ›

Stupas were built because the relics of Buddha such as his bodily remains or objects used by him were buried there. These mounds were called stupas which came to be associated with Buddhism. 2. Asoka distributed portions of Buddha's relics to every important town and ordered the construction of stupas over them.

What is the history of Indian mounds? ›

The mounds served as burial, ceremonial, and historical landmarks for the ancient people. The mounds developed when layers upon layers of deceased members of the group were buried atop one another over the years. Ceremonial items and tools often accompanied the deceased when buried.


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