Mound Builders

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The Kincaid Site, a Mississippian settlement in southern Illinois

the famous alligator shaped mound build by the Mound Builders

The mound builders are a terminology used for a collection of cultures of North America that build a number of earth mounds. Mounds are one of the earliest forms of dead memorials. These earth mounds varied in size and style and were built for religious and ceremonial activities. It is also believed that some of these mounds were used for residential purpose of the higher class. Mounds also had military functions or agriculture activities. These mound builders were also known as the first Americans. Limited resources and tools kept these mounds builders from developing elaborate architecture.

The mound builders left their earth mounds from the Great Lakes to the Gulf and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi Valley. Mounds were built by many tribal groups for a number of belief systems which expressed their culture. The mounds also marked the beginning of political and societal complexity among many early cultures of Ancient America.

Georgia-Etowah-Mound-builders
A mound in Georgia, Etowah

Types of Mound

The designs of these mounds were influenced by the function of it. Mounds in America which were mostly ceremonial in nature could be identified by steps leading to the top. Some of the mounds can be broadly classified into:

Agricultural mound: These types of mounds were mostly landscape modifications that are believed to have improved production. These mounds were raised in places which were more prone to flooding or to tackle extreme temperatures.

Burial mound: These mounds either contained one individual or many depending on the ritual or ones standing in the society. Sometimes these mounds had the cremated remains of the deceased. Mostly the dead were buried in the ground and mounds were built on top of the body. The body was accompanied by many personal items in preparation for the journey after life.

Ceremonial mound: These mounds were mostly religious in nature and included functions like sacrifices or religious activities. They were either altar for a particular god or temples. Effigy mounds could also be classified under this type.

Phase of mound building period

The entire mound building culture can be clubbed into 6 periods in America.

Archaic era: The first mound complex during this area could be traced to south eastern Louisiana. The construction of these complexes of mounds is believed to have started way before the pyramids in Egypt. The mounds during this period are assumed to be pre-agricultural mounds or settlement mounds owing to its location on the flood plains.

Woodland period: The mounds during this period were known for their geometric earthworks. These mounds were located around Ohio, West Virginia and the surrounding areas.

Coles Creek culture: Also known as the late woodland period that was mostly concentrated in the lower Mississippi valley. It was during this phase that population along with cultural and political complexity increased.

Mississippian culture: This culture or phase developed and spread along the river valleys. The largest regional center of that phase is known today as Cahokia. They built gigantic mounds as burial and ceremonial places.

Fort Ancient culture: This culture flourished in the land along the Ohio River. This culture is considered an extension of the Mississippian culture.

Plaquemine culture: This culture flourished in the lower Mississippi River Valley. This culture is believed to be coexisted along with the Middle Mississippian culture.

Construction of mounds

Mounds were built in varied sizes, some were small that contained a single burial site while some were spread across acres and consisted a complex. Mounds could further be divided as standalone or in cluster. These mounds were built mostly of earth however other materials included stone, earth, turf, chalk, limestone or other locally available material. Some of these materials were believed to be brought from as far as about 100kms. Later these mounds evolved to be built by adobe bricks, cut rocks of similar sizes etc. These mounds are also believed to have been built spanning generations as there were no technology that could ease the construction.

The culture of Mound Building

The Americans considered mounds as part of a highly refined culture for more than 3000 years that was comparable to many of the great civilizations. The mound building people shared similar culture and belief system. It is from the study of these mounds that information of the rich cultural history is known to the world today. The entire Southeastern and Mid-western regions of the United States once were home to a closely networked of villages of mound building people further connected by larger by mound building cities such as the Mississippian culture that survived for more than 1000 years.

In the sixteenth century, the Mound Builders came in contact with the Spanish invaders and this long tradition of mound building came to an end.

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