Most people are aware of the great civilizations
of Egypt and Mexico, but few, even American
Indians themselves, realize there were great
civilizations in North America as well.
Simply put, the Mound-Builders were American
Indians. The civilizations that flourished
here were spectacular in their own right and
are known as the Mound-Builders incorrectly.
The Mound-building took place over many hundreds
of years and was practiced by many different
groups. Remember we are talking about nations
here. Saying Indians is like saying Europeans.
Just as German and English cultures are very
different, so are the Nations of Amerindians.
Another thing the reader should realize is
American Indians call themselves American
Indians, NOT Native Americans. Mound building
in one form or another flourished from 3000
B.C. until the mid 19th century and there
were many different Native Americam cultures
that built mounds. Thus, the term Mound-Builder
is an innaccurate term. Cahokia Mounds ( another
mis-named place as the Cahokia Indians were
part of the Illiani Indians and were not the
group that had occupied Cahokia Mounds ) in
Illinois is representitive of the height of
the Mississippian Culture Civilization in
North America that reached it's peak around
1450 A.D. although it lasted well into the
18th century with the Natchez. Other forms
of mound building lasted well into the late
Credit has been given to almost every race
on earth for the building of mounds. From
the time the first settlers arrived rigth
up to the present almost every race on earth
has been considered as originators of this
culture. Even when the true originators, the
American Indian, were found to be the creators
of this phase it would not be long before
racism and romanticism would prevail and once
again the theories would abound to answer
the question,"Who built the mounds?" The purponents
of these wildly speculative theories ignore
things like the fact that many of the groups
in the Americas pre-date those of the Old
World. For example, Cahokia was a flourishing
population center and a city in every sense
of the word when London was a few scattered
huts. There were domesticated plants being
put to use, as the Koster site shows, when
the Sumerians and Egyptians were still fledgeling
civilizations, or not even established.
The fact is, however, the Mound Cultures were
made up of many different cultures that shared
cultural traits. There were also many phases
of Mound Culture civilization practiced by
almost all known Amerindain groups at some
time and spanning eons. The hight of American
Romanticism with the Mound Cultures peaked
in the 19th century and it is at this time
that Congress, in deciding on grants to the
Bureau of Ethnology (today known as the Smithsonian
Institute) decided that the question of who
had built the mounds should be settled once
and for all.
In 1881 the Congress of the United States
gave $5000 to the Smithsonian Institution
to conduct archeological excavations relating
to the prehistoric Mound Builders and prehistoric
mounds. Mr. Wills de Haas of Wheeling, West
Virginia, was placed in charge of the project.
Mr. de Haas who had studied Grave Creek Mound
at Moundsville, West Virginia, resigned after
a year. He was replaced by Cyrus Thomas and
the project continued until 1890. The goal
of the mound explorations was to settle the
question of who were the Mound Builders. Were
they an ancient vanished race as many scholars
believed or were they the ancestors of the
American Indians. By the completion of the
project in 1890, over 2000 mounds and earthworks
had been studied in the eastern United States.
About 100 of these were in the Kanawha Valley.
In 1894 Cyrus Thomas published his book Report
on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of
Ethnology and proved that the Mound Builders
were not a vanished race but the ancestors
of the American Indian. This was the birth
of modern American Archeology. Once the question
of the identity of the Mound Builders was
settled, archeologists began tracing the development
of North American Indian culture.
Today the term Mound Builder is missused.
The types of mounds built, although many and
varied, can be divided into two basic culture
types. These two basic types are usualy called
Effigy and Temple and both groups as well
as many Amerindian groups that did not belong
to these two groups, practiced making various
forms of burial mounds and cairns. Other types
of mounds, such as burial, are varied in type
to the extent as to warrant their own sub-groups.
A third form, probably the most famous, are
called ffigy mounds. This latter type includes
sites such as the Serpent Mound on Ohio and
other effigy mound groups. These sites often
include other forms of mounds and earth-works
and take many forms including birds.
Sometime around 6000 B. C., while Neolithic
farming began in the Near and far East, it
also began in North America. Several sites
in North America show established settlements
and farming occurring as early as 7000 B.C.
Now, I know your thinking, "This is the New
World," but the fact is that the Koster Site
in Illinois, and Annis Shell Mound in Kentucky
show unmistakeable agricultural pratices in
the heart of North America during these times.
There are indications that some of these sites
are older still. In fact recent dates indicate
some forms of agriculture as early as 10000
BC. Today, over 50% of the worlds domesticated
produce comes from plants domesticated by
Mound building is believed to have begun as
a burial practice, the mound serving as both
tombstone, tomb and offering site to the deceased.
However, what is believed to be the oldest
known mound complex in the Americas dates
to about 3400 B.C., and shows no indication
of any ceramonial purpose whatsoever. The
mound group is near Monroe in northern Louisiana.
This site demonstrates that the idea of mound
culture developement being dependant on agricultural
developement is an inaccurate one as the builders
of this complex were hunter/gatherer cultures
according to present studies on the site.
This site further demonstrates that the oral
traditions of my ancestors are not as trivial
as many archaeologists believe them to be.
Later the practice of mound-building and earthworks
grew into several basic and distinct types.
The burial mound, the effigy Mound, and the
temple or platform mound. Although the Effigy
form is considered to be the older than the
temple form and as such appears first in most
books on the subject, the Platform mound is
actually older. The earliest of these are
found in Meso-America among the remains of
the Olmec culture. It is here that we can
see the development of mound building. The
Olmec began with earthen platform mounds then
began paving these mounds with stone until
finally all their structures of this type
were made of cut stone.
It is the earthen platform mound found in
North America that characterizes the Mississippian
period that began around 400 A. D.