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[graphic] Building the Mounds
[photo] "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 earthen ridges.

  • 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 them.

  • 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.
[graphic] Link to Mound Builders Essay [graphic] Footer with links to essays [graphic] Link to Building the Mounds Essay  [graphic] Link to Preserving the Mounds Essay


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