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Poverty Point

Known as one of the most important archaeological sites, Poverty Point contains some of the largest prehistoric earth works in North America. In 1962, Poverty Point was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Poverty Point is located in northeastern Louisiana. While it already was thriving as a trade center for the entire Mississippi Valley by 1000 B.C., it is dated between the years 700 and 1700 B.C.


There is a complex array of earthen mounds overlooking the Mississippi River flood plain. The mounds were most likely first built for burial disposal, as man has always been concerned with death. The site consists of six rows of concentric ridges which at one time were five to ten feet high. The layout suggests an octagonal shape that measures three-quarters of a mile in diameter of the outermost ridges. These outer ridges are also thought to have served as


The most extraordinary, and largest mound in Poverty Point is called Bird Effigy Mound. This mound looks like a hawk, and it was not made for burial purposes, but simply for revering the bird. The Bird Effigy Mound is 3/4 mile across, 70 feet high, and truly looks like a bird when viewed


The other mounds on the site contain a variety of artifacts. Some contain cremations of human remains, bird effigy's, and others contain artifacts that establish an extensive trade network which is surprising for so long ago. Their food preparation adaptation is also evident through the self molded clay balls they engineered as heating stones for cooking. Thousands of these balls, in many shapes and designs, have been found at the site. Also found are tools that point toward a woodworking lifestyle. Fish, animals and plants were plentiful and point to a non-agricultural lifestyle. Instead, they survived by fishing and hunting and gathering.


Poverty Point is truly breathtaking, especially considering that the massive mounds took about five million man-hours to build. Considering the lack of automotive technology back then, it must have been considerably hard work carrying dirt to the site in baskets of about a 50 pound capacity. Women also participated in the labor carrying dirt in their aprons. The age, size and character of this collection clearly place the mounds among the significant finds in America today. Poverty Point is an extraordinary find for the United States.

by Sarah Schmitt

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