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Below: A 16th century expedition by Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto encountered the mound cultures in their waning days.

(image) Detail from a painting depicting De Soto's men at a mound

“It is altogether unknown to us what could have induced the Indians to raise such a heap of earth in this place . . . It is reasonable to suppose, however, that they were to serve some important purpose in those days, as they were public works, and would have required the united labour and attention of a whole nation." William Bartram, writer/naturalist, 1775

“The greatest adornment of all . . . consists in certain figures of suns, serpents, or other things, which they carry pictured on their bodies in the manner of the ancient Britons, of whom Caesar tells us in his Commentaries. It is not only for them an ornament, but also a mark of honor and distinction, which is only acquired after many brave deeds . . . The figure imprinted on the flesh is never effaced. It is carried to the tomb." Le Page Du Pratz, Histoire de la Louisiane, 1758

“Having arrived in the town, we found that the caciques there were accustomed to have, next to the houses where they lived, some very high mounds, made by hand, and that others have their houses on the mounds themselves. On the summit of that mound we drove in the cross, and we all went with much devotion, kneeling to kiss the foot of the cross." Luys Hernandez de Biedma, 1539, from The De Soto Chronicles