Ancient earthworks share similarities

The Poverty Point earthworks could be confused for an Ohio Hopewell site, except for two facts: It is located in Louisiana, and it’s more than 1,000 years older than any Hopewell mound.

One of the biggest puzzles in North American archaeology is how the relatively small bands of hunter-gatherers living at that time could have built monumental architecture on this scale without food surpluses provided by farming or the centralized leadership of a king or chief.

One theory is that many small groups of hunter-gatherers came together on a seasonal basis year after year for generations to slowly construct this complex of parallel embankments and mounds.

However, the results of new excavations into the largest of Poverty Point’s mounds refute this theory.

Mound A is a massive conical mound about 72 feet tall with a broad, roughly rectangular platform extending off its eastern side. Anthony Ortmann of Murray State University in Kentucky and Tristram Kidder of Washington University in St. Louis excavated a 32-foot-deep trench into Mound A.They reported their results this month in the journal Geoarchaeology.

Ortmann and Kidder carefully examined the mound and found no evidence of any interruptions in its construction. They estimate that the entire mound was built in three months.

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