Mississippi Mound Builders were not limited to just the Mississippi River Valley. Ancient civilizations built mounds in a large area from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains, but the greatest concentrations of mounds are found in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.
These included societies in the Archaic, and Woodland period, and Mississippian period.
These Pre-Columbian mounds have been dated from roughly 3000 BCE to the 1500s, and most of these cultures lived in the Great Lakes region, the Ohio River region, and the Mississippi River region. However, there were also mound building cultures as far away as Florida.
Once it was thought all the mounds were built by one great ancient civilization. We now know that many different cultures contributed to the ancient mounds found on the North American continent.
Archaeological research indicates the mounds of North America were built over a long period of time by very different types of societies, ranging from mobile hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers. These prehistoric mounds had a wide variety of forms and fulfilled a range of functions.
Many served as burial mounds. Others were temple mounds, built as platforms to hold religious structures. Burial mounds were especially common during the Middle Woodland period (c.100 B.C.–A.D. 400), while temple mounds predominated during the Mississippian period (after A.D. 1000).
The earliest mounds in the United States have been found at Watson Brake near Monroe, Louisiana. they were built about 6,000 years ago. The purpose of these eleven mounds is unclear.
The Archaic mound-building tradition culminated at the Poverty Point Site, in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, between 1800 B.C. and 500 B.C. Six concentric ridges surround two large mounds, one of which reaches 65 ft (20 meters) high.
During the Woodland period (c.500 B.C.–A.D. 1000), domestic crops of sunflowers, goosefoot, erect knot weed, and may grass were cultivated, allowing people to develop a greater degree of sedentism throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys.
During the Middle Woodland period (c.200 B.C.–A.D. 400) elaborate earthworks were constructed from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.
Large, mainly dome-shaped mounds appeared throughout the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys, some in the form of animal effigies.
In the Hopewell culture, centered in Southern Ohio and Illinois, earthen geometric enclosures defined areas ranging from 2.5 to 120 acres (1 to 50 hectares), and some mounds reached 65 ft (20 meters) in height.
Mica, ceramic, shell, pipestone, and other material were traded over a vast area, indicating the growth of a system of widely shared religious beliefs but not overall political unity.
Analysis of mortuary remains suggests Middle and Late Woodland communities were characterized by a system of social rank. Some kin groups are believed to have had high social prestige with preferential access to rare commodities, and control over positions of political leadership.
Towards the end of the Late Woodland period (c.A.D. 400–1000), burial mounds decreased in frequency, and the elaborate burial goods of the Hopewell culture became very rare.
In the Mississippian period (after A.D. 1000), maize was cultivated throughout the East. Populations expanded and became increasingly sedentary. At Cahokia Mounds (near East St. Louis, Illinois) the largest earthwork in North America was built, a temple mound measuring nearly 100 ft high (30 meters) and 975 ft long (300 meters).
Many large ceremonial centers with temple mounds appeared throughout the South, especially in the Mississippi Valley.
After 1200, a set of distinctive motifs spread throughout the Southeast, from Oklahoma to Northern Georgia, on a variety of media, including shells, ceramics, and pipestone. Elaborate ceremonial copper axes, gorgets and sheet copper plumes have also been found in this area.
This complex of distinct motifs is called the Southern Cult. It is thought these items, along with the many temple mounds in existence in this area, indicate a regional religion shared by a large number of local cultures.
Mississippian societies are thought to have been complex chiefdoms, the most hierarchical form of political organization to emerge in aboriginal North America.
The Toltec Mounds is a group of earthworks, in the lower Mississippi Valley, constructed by the Indians that lived in the region durring the Middle Ages. Identification of the site with the Toltecs was a mistake.
Hundreds, or perhaps thousands of mounds were built in the Mississippi Delta. Crews of workers labored over generations, sometimes a century or more, before an earthwork reached its final dimensions.
Radiocarbon dating has shown that the decline in the Moundbuilder population began more than a century before Europeans arrived in the region. The decline of the Mississippian Indians’ population is still a mystery.
Cahokia Mounds mark Illinois’ most ancient city
Cahokia art exhibit showcases moundbuilders
Once the most numerous peoples in Florida, the Ais are now extinct
Role of Middle Mississippians in transfer of Late Woodland to Oneota culture