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Monumental American Indian Architecture

Winterville Mounds (16KB)
Winterville Mounds, Mississippi

Four thousand years ago as ancient Egyptians were erecting pyramids, American Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley began establishing communities with large, elaborate earthen architecture. Early examples are the sites of Watson Brake and Hedgepeth, located near modern day Monroe, Louisiana. By 1500 B.C., the large site of Poverty Point—now a state park in northeastern Louisiana—had been constructed, incorporating large, concentric semicircular mounds bordered by large conical mounds with a great bird-shaped central mound. Much later, around 1000 A.D., larger and more elaborate complexes of mounds were constructed by a culture referred to as Mississippian. Archeological excavations over the past thirty years have revealed much about the monumental architecture of these cultures. Circular and conical mounds are the predominant feature for pre-Poverty Point and Poverty Point period sites, while flat-topped earthen mounds with large towns are characteristic of the Mississippian sites. Typically, these towns contained anywhere from one to twenty mounds, which often were used as platforms for temples or as residences for leaders. The mounds usually were arranged around a plaza while a palisade of saplings surrounded the entire complex. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of these Mississippian towns existed in the Lower Mississippi River Valley as centers for economic, political, and religious activities. Some examples of these mound structures are preserved today as parks and can be visited and enjoyed by the public. Among them are Poverty Point and Marksville State Parks in Louisiana; Toltec and Parkin State Parks in Arkansas; Winterville State Park and Emerald, Mangum, Boyd, and Bynum Mounds along the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi; and Pinson State Park and Shiloh Mounds at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee.

Mound Sites

National Parks

State Parks

NPS Education/Interpretation
Publications and Internet Sites

  • Ancient Earthworks of the Ouachita River Valley, Louisiana This publication by Jon L. Gibson, introduces us to the ancient mound-building cultures. Gibson gives his readers perspective by putting the various episodes of mound building into worldwide context. His overview of previous research and researchers provides a rich historical backdrop for the wealth of data he has consolidated.
  • Mississippi Delta Mound Poster "Ancient Civilizations - Forgotten Cultures" (oil painting by Martin Pate) is a Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) Public Awareness Poster produced in conjunction with other Delta Initiative education and outreach materials and a SEAC research report entitled Ancient Indian Architecture of the Lower Mississippi Delta: A Study of Earthworks, 1996, by Guy Prentice.
  • The Mississippian and Late Prehistoric Period This page is based on the 1963 National Historic Landmark Theme Study which characterized Mississippian cultures (then called "Temple Mound" cultures) as different from the Woodland cultures on the basis of distinctive ceramic vessel forms, the use of ground shell as a tempering agent in ceramics, rectangularly shaped structures, and ceremonial earthwork complexes.
  • Southeast Archeological Center SEAC continues a thirty-year tradition within the National Park Service of archeological research, collections and information management, and technical support for national park units located in the southeast region of the National Park Service (NPS).
  • Ancient Architects of the Mississippi This National Park Service page provides an overview of the ancient mound-building cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley.
  • Timeline
  • Lower Mississippi Delta Mound Study

Related Web Sites

The National Park Service has gone one step further to expand your knowledge of the lower Mississippi River valley by providing this list of related web sites.


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Last Updated: March 14, 2001