Emerald Mound, milepost 10.3
Emerald Mound, milepost 10.3
Photo NPS/© Marc Muench


By pretending they are investigating a theft, the students will compare and contrast Native American mounds from two time periods. They will use deductive reasoning to determine which objects belong to which mounds in either of the two time periods. The lesson can be used with photos provided in the plan or teachers may check out imitation artifact kits by calling 662-680-4015.


Enduring Understanding: Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, American Indians (first Americans) were dispersed across different environments in North and South America.

Essential Question: What do we know about American Indian mounds in the Southeast? 

The students will be able to:

1) Name 5 Native American mounds in Mississippi

2) Describe characteristics of mounds in two different time periods

3) Explain the difference between mounds in two time periods

4) Locate specific mounds on a map

5) Use deductive reasoning skills

The lesson can be used as either a cursory introduction or a review of prior student learning.


Natchez Trace Parkway has several Native American Indian Mounds. For more information on these mounds, please click here: MOUNDS


1. Booklet: Indian Mounds of Mississippi (or other reference information about Native American mounds on the Natchez Trace Parkway

2. Map indicating location of the lesson mounds

3. Various pictures of artifacts found in the mounds

4. Mound grid Worksheet

5. Mound grid answer sheet

6. Historian's Notes

7. Thief's Notes and Picture page


Teacher Set: Show the students pictures of mound artifacts from different time periods. Explain that it is illegal to take artifacts from National Park areas because they are protected by law. Explain to the students they will be pretending they are criminal investigators. Explain that as students they will be reviewing two different Native American mound types located in Mississippi along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Have students locate the five mounds addressed in this lesson on a Natchez Trace Map and circle those locations. Hand out copies of the Mound Grid, the Note Cards and the Historian's Notes. Hand out to each team a copy or read the attached Background Story.

Background Story:

Joe Tourista found a box at Old Town Overlook on the Natchez Trace Parkway. When he opened the box, he found several items. He recognized some of the items as ancient Native American artifacts so he immediately called you, a Park Ranger on the Natchez Trace Parkway. When you looked into the box this is what you saw: Five plastic zip bags, each bag contains a 3x5 card with what appears to be codes and what appears to be ancient Native American artifacts.

You carefully take the box to the Park Historian who informs you that she is on the way to the hospital to be with her sister who is about to have a baby. She tells you that the Regional Director of the National Park Service from Atlanta, Georgia is making a surprise visit and is down the hallway.

The Director will not be happy to find an unprotected box of stolen artifacts on a Park Ranger's desk. The historian asks you to please quickly and carefully investigate where each item belongs and to make a list with your findings. She hands you her notes on Mississippi mound builders and then runs out the door. You wonder if her behavior is a bit suspicious.

However, you must work quickly because you are left holding the bags! You must work carefully and discover where the items were taken from!

You realized that the cards will be important to help reveal the homes of the stolen artifacts. You decide the bags probably hold artifacts from different mound locations. You quickly take photos of the artifacts in the bag so you can put the real ones in a secure location. You also make a grid to help figure out what goes where and start studying the historian's notes.


1.) Study the symbols on the cards.

 • Ask the students: "What do you think the symbols represent?" (acknowledge any reasonable answers)

 • Ask the students: 'Why do you think someone made these note cards?" (correct answer: who ever took the artifacts must have made notes in symbols to keep track of the location where they were found).

 • Ask the students: "Why do you think the thief may have written symbols rather than words?" (correct answer: The thief probably did this because if he or she were discovered holding the goods, no one would quickly realize the meaning of the notes and that the artifacts were from locations where people are not allowed to collect artifacts. If a Park Ranger saw an artifact with a mound name, they would immediately recognize that there was a theft.)

2.) Read to students or print out instructions below.

1. Read the historian's notes.

A. Underline the kinds of artifacts found in the mound

B. Circle the information about human remains

C. Double underline the time period (Mississippian, etc)

2. Enter the information you found in the Historian's notes into your Mound Grid Worksheet.

3. Compare these to the codes cards from the bags and the photos you took of the artifacts found in the bag.

Teacher Clue Helps:

Cue Card description hints:

Card 1: very large flat mound (Emerald)

Card 2: Domed top mound. The number 6, bones exposed to heat, dead bodies (Bynum)

Card 3: Dome top mound, bones exposed to heat, dead bodies (by process of elimination, Pharr Mounds)

Card 4: Flat top mound, creek, bear, burned daub instead of artifact (Bear Creek)

Card 5: Domed mound with 2 inside, bones exposed to heat, dead bodies, two different types of artifacts (Boyd)

Historian Note doodles are completely insignificant and for effect only. If students ask, tell them that is the phone number to the local Pizza store.

Student Task: Look carefully at the Historian's notes. Compare the Historian's notes with the notes from the thief. Using the Mound Grid, fill in the information using the historian's notes. Figure out which artifact belongs to which site and write the correct Note Card number in the space next to the correct mound name.

Teacher Closure: Go over the correct answers and explain how the correct answers fit that particular mound. e. g., the card symbol shows a flat top mound so the mound must be from the Mississippian period. Have the students discuss whether or not they think the Historian is guilty (no correct answer). Ask what additional information they would need to determine whether or not the historian is guilty. Ask students to discuss whether or not it is appropriate that historic artifacts are protected by law.


Participation in the activity and follow-up discussion

Park Connections

Examines the history of the Native American Indian Mounds on the Natchez Trace Parkway.


Have the students draw pictures of and label the parts of the two main types of mounds on the Natchez Trace. Have students do report on a specific Native American mound.

Additional Resources

Copy of the portion of a map of the Natchez Trace Parkway that includes the mounds in the lesson. Excellent resources are found at http://www.nps.gov/history/seac/deltapro.htm and http://www.cr.nps.gov/seac/outline/index.htm


Illegal, law, daub, artifact, mound, Woodland Period,  Mississippian Period