3,500 years ago Louisiana was the center of civilization in the Western Hemisphere (I will avoid commenting on that fact). Deep within the Archaic era, when the Indian inhabitants of North America were moving from place to place as hunters and gatherers, a group of nomads began to at and build mounds at Poverty Point.
The feature of Poverty Mound are the six concentric rings which form about a two-thirds circle. The circle segments rise to an approximate height of six feet. The mounds were formed mostly by moving clay and a little bit of trash. Some signs of temporary structures have been found in the mounds but not inside the circle the mounds form.
To the west of the circular mound formation is Mound A. Mound A originally rose to a height of 70 feet and was accessed via a ramp. The mound had a commanding view of the circle mounds and the nearby area. Nearby are two other mounds of moderate size. These mounds align close to, but not quite, due north.
Some artifacts have been found at the site which have given rise to the term Poverty Point culture. Objects like fire-cracked clay balls to start boiling water, animal figurines, arrow heads, and soapstone bowls have been found at the site. Some of the material to make the objects come from fairly distant areas fifty to one-hundred miles away.
No pottery has been found at the site hinting that these people were like all other groups in North America at the time who did not know how to make pottery yet.
The site brings into question many of the previously held thoughts about Archaic times. Indians were able to build a complex structure. To do this they had to be sedentary for a long time and have a political power structure of order and monitor the construction. The presence of goods made from distant material implies a trade network and the existance of valued goods. The presence of valued goods quickly leads some archaeologist to believe their was a social hierarchy aka "social inequality." Originally archaeologist thought Archaic Indians were all egalitarians who moved constantly from place to place within a territory.
The site was finished around 2,000 years ago and depopulated sometime afterwards. It was rediscovered in the 1800s by Louisianans who promptly decided to put a road right in the middle of it. This was the time before professional archaeology and any possible data finds were lost. The site is currently a State Historic Site and National Historic Place. In 1988 Congress authorized Poverty Point National Monument expecting Louisiana to hand it over to federal control. Louisiana has decided not to and the site is in an odd limbo state.
For more information on Poverty Point
- A 22 minute movie from The Archaeology Channel
- A well done Geocities site on Poverty Point
- Poverty Point Earthworks: Evolutionary Milestones of the Americas
- Poverty Point: The First Complex Delta Culture