"Ancient Civilizations - Forgotten
Cultures," oil painting by Martin Pate
Courtesy of the Southeast Archeological Center
How Were Mounds Made?
Imagine groups of workers toiling from dawn to dusk, gathering
baskets of dirt. They carry their burdens to a clearing, dump
the soil, and tamp it down with their feet. As the days pass they
retrace their footsteps time after time until a shape emerges
and begins to grow. An earthen mound is born. Over years of ceremonial
use, multiple layers of earth are added during repeated episodes
of construction, gradually building a mound of impressive height.
Variations of this scene were repeated throughout Mississippi
over a span of at least 1,800 years.
More About Mounds
- The shapes of mounds vary. They can be flat-topped pyramids,
rounded domes, or barely perceptible rises on the landscape.
- Mounds can stand alone or be in groups of as many as 20 or
more, as at Winterville. Some mounds are
arranged around broad plazas, while others are connected by
- How American Indians used the mounds also varied. The purposes
of some of the most ancient mounds are still shrouded in mystery.
Some societies buried their dead in mounds with great ceremony.
Other cultures built temples atop the mounds, and worshipers
approached by climbing steep stairs or ramps. Still other earthworks
were symbolic pinnacles of power for leaders who dwelled atop
- 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. With
such sacred associations, mounds were powerful territorial markers
and monuments of social unity, reinforcing and perpetuating
community identity and pride.