Research reveals new insights into ancient mound complex of Poverty Point

A joint project by the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) and the Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) has revealed new insights into the ancient ceremonial mound and ridge complex of Poverty Point, located on the Bayou Macon in present-day Louisiana in the United States.

Poverty Point, named after a 19th-century plantation was built over several phases, with the earliest archaeological evidence suggesting that construction began sometime from 1800 BC during the Late Archaic Period, continuing though to 1200 BC.

Previous Studies have determined that the builders of the complex levelled the landscape to create a central plaza, surrounded by a series of earthen ridges and mounds that covers an area of around 345 acres.

The builders were an indigenous society of hunter-fisher-gatherers, identified as the Poverty Point Culture that inhabited stretches of the Lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. Over 100 sites have been attributed to the Poverty Point Culture, with anthropologists proposing that they descended from immigrants who came to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge approximately 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.

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Site plan of Poverty Point – Image Credit : Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) – CC BY-SA 2.5

The new study focused on the central Plaza using ground penetrating radar, in addition to a combination of soil coring, analyses of soil samples, sieving for artefacts and by lowering a geophysical sensor down the cored holes.

“The results show that the Plaza contains a number of distinct earthworks. A subtle high spot in the Plaza, the West Plaza Rise, was not a natural rise, but a purposely elevated feature within the Plaza fill” said Diana Greenlee, adjunct professor and station archaeologist at Poverty Point World Heritage Site.

An underground ridge was formed by removing more of the original soil from both sides that stretches across the Plaza from the West Plaza Rise to Mound C.

“These earthworks, together with a buried mound-like feature has unique soil properties unlike any of the known earthworks at the site, demonstrating that the Plaza at Poverty Point has a more elaborate construction history than we previously knew” said Greenlee.


Header Image Credit : Jeffrey M. Frank – Shutterstock



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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is an award winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education and the BCA Medal of Honour.

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