Wickliffe Mounds: A Pre-Columbian Native American Site

Wickliffe Mounds: A Pre-Columbian Native American Site

The Wickliffe Mounds make up a Native American complex that was discovered in Ballard County, Kentucky, near the town of Wickliffe. The prehistoric Mississippian site is situated on a bluff near the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the original Chickasaw homelands and includes a residential mound, a ceremonial mound, a cemetery building and early villages. The Wickliffe Mounds archeological site prominently features two central platform mounds, a central plaza and eight smaller mounds surrounding the area.

Ancient Native Americans inhabited the Wickliffe Mounds from approximately 1100 CE to 1350 CE. Agriculture was significant to Mississippian people, and corn was a staple crop that was stored and used to feed the dense population that occupied the site. The Mississippian civilization at Wickliffe had a hierarchical leadership system ruled by a hereditary chief and was characterized by the advanced stratification of its social classes. The decline of this complex was gradual, as the ancient people began gradually deserting Wickliffe around 1300 CE to relocate to another site.

The Wickliffe Mounds have been excavated and studied by archeologists and scholars for decades. In 1932, the site opened to the public, offering views of the mounds and displays of the Mississippian stone tools, cultural artifacts and pottery recovered from the location.

Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the twentieth century, some of the excavations were improperly handled and poorly managed. However, in 1983, Wickliffe Mounds was donated to Murray State University in recognition of the scientific importance and educational potential of the mounds. In 1984, the university established the Wickliffe Mounds Research Center with the goal to accurately understand, interpret and preserve the site with archaeologists and museum personnel in charge. The exhibits were also updated to provide accurate information about the Mississippian people who once lived here.

That same year, Murray State University began to conduct small-scale excavations and archaeological laboratory research at Wickliffe Mounds to promote a better understanding of the site. The excavations helped verify the accuracy of the 1930s excavations and develop an overview of activities on the site.

The archaeological research that Murray State University conducted has produced significantly important information about the Wickliffe Mounds site. Radiocarbon dates, as well as other techniques, have established a chronology for the Wickliffe Mounds archaeological site (15BA4). Their findings indicate that the Early Wickliffe period lasted from about 1100 CE-1175 CE, the Middle Wickliffe period from about 1175 CE-1250 CE, and the Late Wickliffe period from about 1250 CE-1350 CE.

Artist's Depiction of Mississippian Village at Wickliffe, Ballard County, Kentucky. Credit: Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site,

The village located at Wickliffe Mounds was settled by Native Americans of the Mississippian culture and began as a small town surrounding a central plaza around 1100 CE. They built the first stage of what became Mound B (the Architecture building), where the chief and his or her family probably lived, by about 1175 CE.

Between 1175 CE and 1250 CE, the inhabitants built Mounds A (the Ceremonial Mound) and C (Burial Mound), added to Mound B, and may have begun some of the other mounds such as Mound D (the Lifeways building). The village began to expand during this time—partly as families moved back to give room for the mounds, and perhaps also due to a larger population. Evidence suggests that trade increased during this period, especially between Wickliffe and the region around St. Louis, Missouri, where Cahokia, the largest Mississippian site, is located.

Wickliffe Mounds began to undergo interesting changes between 1250 CE and 1350 CE. Like many other Mississippian mound sites at this time, less effort was devoted to building mounds, although during this period, the inhabitants completed Mounds A, B, and D, and built Mound F (west of the Ceremonial Mound). The village at Wickliffe Mounds continued to expand until it covered the entire bluff. However, the people who built and lived at this site apparently deserted it around 1350 CE. The reasons for their departure are still not clear.

In 2004, Murray State University transferred the Wickliffe Mounds archaeological site and its collections to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Today, Wickliffe Mounds is managed by the Kentucky State Parks Service and noted as a Kentucky archeological landmark. The mound site is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places and features special exhibits, interactive displays and educational programs for the public.

Wickliffe Mounds archaeologists continue to study the artifacts that were excavated during the 1930s, 1980s, 1990s and after. Archaeology is a non-renewable resource. Until the most recent excavations are thoroughly studied, and new questions or techniques can be introduced, Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site will continue to preserve the site and interpret the latest findings, while keeping further disturbance to a minimum.

For more information about Wickliffe Mounds and the ancient Native American cultures of the southeast United States, visit the Chickasaw.tv History & Culture Channel .


Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site

1. See the archaeological features of the Mississipian culture.
2. View pottery, stone tools, artifacts and park history displays.
3. Walk the interpretive archaeological trails.
4. Learn about Native American art and culture.
5. View the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River.

Wickliffe Mounds has a museum, welcome center, gift shop, trails and picnic areas. Come see us!

A Native American village once occupied the site of Wickliffe Mounds, about A.D. 1100 to 1350. Here, people of the Mississippian culture built earthen mounds and permanent houses around a central plaza overlooking the Mississippi River. Today, this Native American archaeological site features mounds surrounded by abundant wildlife, museum exhibits, a walking trail, welcome center, a gift shop and picnic areas.

Open to the public since 1932, the museum exhibits excavated features with displays of Mississippian pottery, stone tools, artifacts and artwork showcasing their way of life and the archaeological history of Native American tribes in Kentucky. Visitors have a spectacular view of the bluff area on top of the Ceremonial Mound, the largest mound on the site. Special exhibits, hands-on displays, events, demonstrations and educational programs occur at various times throughout the year. For example, an annual family fun event is the popular Archaeology Day, an event held each September for Kentucky Archaeology Month.

Scientific archaeological research through Murray State University has revealed important information about the Mississippian people here at Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site. This registered archaeological site (15BA4) is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a Kentucky Archaeological Landmark. Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site is an Interpretive Center on the Mississippi River’s Great River Road National Scenic Byway and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Auto Tour Route.

Please note: Pets are prohibited on the archaeological site, which encompasses the fenced in area around the mounds, buildings and trails service dogs allowed. Please call park office for questions regarding the pet policy.

Hours of Operation
Spring through Fall Schedule (April 1 to November 15):
Open Wednesday - Sunday
Closed Mondays & Tuesdays
Park Grounds – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Museum, Welcome Center & Gift Shop – 9:00 to 4:30

Self-Guided Tours
Visitors may walk the grounds to view the Ceremonial, Chief’s and Burial Mounds and take an Archaeology Walking Trail tour. Exhibits in the main museum gallery give visitors a chance to see Mississippian tools and learn about their technology in stone, pottery, weaving, and the natural environment.


STUDY SITE AND BACKGROUND

Kincaid Mounds (hereafter Kincaid) is located in southern Illinois on a portion of the lower Ohio River’s floodplain known as the Black Bottom (Fig. 1). While smaller archaeological sites have been identified across the Black Bottom, Kincaid represents a primary locus of habitation on Avery Lake’s northern shore (Muller, 1986). Archaeological evidence indicates that this site was intermittently occupied since ca. 4000 BCE, with the first evidence for intensive settlement and village construction beginning during the Early and Middle Woodland Baumer phase from 300 BCE to 300 CE (Butler and Crow, 2013 Butler and Welch, 2006 Parker and Butler, 2017). Kincaid was subsequently abandoned, or intermittently occupied by a sparse population, from ca. 350 to 650 CE (Butler and Wagner, 2012). After 650 CE, Kincaid was repopulated during the Late Woodland Lewis phase, which transitioned into the Mississippian period sometime between 1000 and 1150 CE (Pursell, 2016). The Mississippian occupation (1150–1450 CE) is the best studied at Kincaid because large earthworks, bastioned fortifications, and an extensive village were constructed during this time (Butler et al., 2011). Between 1400 and 1450 CE, Mississippians abandoned Kincaid, along with much of the central Mississippi and Ohio River valleys (Cobb and Butler, 2002 Milner and Chaplin, 2010), in what has been suggested to be a response to a severe ∼100-yr-long drought between 1350 and 1450 CE (Bird et al., 2017). Kincaid and the surrounding Black Bottom remained largely unoccupied until the 1800s, when Euro-American settlers began utilizing the region for river commerce and agriculture (Bird et al., 2019 Muller, 1986).

Recently reported multi-proxy results from Avery Lake complement the archaeological perspective of Kincaid’s occupation history and reveal additional information about pre-Columbian land use and environmental impacts (Bird et al., 2019). For example, the most intensive pre-Columbian occupations identified in the archaeological record (the Baumer and Mississippian) were each characterized by extensive land clearance as evidenced by simultaneous lows in arboreal (tree) pollen and peaks in Ambrosia (ragweed) pollen, the latter being an indicator of landscape disturbance (Wright, 1967). Low population densities during the Baumer occupation and significantly increased population densities during the Mississippian occupation (Butler and Wagner, 2012) were additionally reflected in bulk sediment δ 15 N variations (Bird et al., 2019). Whereas δ 15 N was relatively invariant during the Baumer occupation, indicating low population densities, it abruptly increased by ∼4‰ to over 6.5‰ between 1130 and 1185 CE, suggesting that population densities reached ∼60 people/km 2 (Cabana and Rasmussen, 1996). δ 15 N values subsequently decreased, but remained elevated until after ca. 1460 CE, which agrees with the site being abandoned between ca. 1400 and 1450 CE.

Three distinct Pb concentration peaks are also apparent in the Avery Lake data during each of the major occupations in the Black Bottom, i.e., Baumer, Mississippian, and the Euro-American occupation since ca. 1800 CE (Bird et al., 2019). These Pb anomalies remained even after normalization to the conservative elements zirconium (Zr) and titanium (Ti), indicating that they represent excess Pb in the environment (Boës et al., 2011). Given their temporal association with human occupations, and that they did not occur under any other conditions, the Pb anomalies are attributed to anthropogenic pollution. Anthropogenic sources of Pb during the past ∼200 yr have been extensively investigated, with wood and coal combustion (1800s and 1900s), ore smelting (1800s to present), and the use of leaded petroleum products (1940s to the 1970s) generally implicated as the sources of modern Pb pollution (Graney et al., 1995). Here, we focus on the pre-Columbian Pb signals, as little is known about the occurrence and/or sources of early Pb pollution in North America.


Hands On History comes to Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site

Family-friendly activities related to archaeology, Mississippi Native American culture and the natural environment will be offered on Saturdays now throughout the summer at Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site.

Each Hands On History Saturday activity will be demonstrated by park staff for visitors of all ages and will include games, pottery, baskets, bow and arrows, gourds and more. Each session will run from 10 a.m. to noon.

To find out more, call the park or visit the website to find out what activity will occur along with details. The programs, which run through Labor Day weekend, are included with a paid museum admission of $5 for adults, and $4 for kids and seniors. Prices are subject to change based on weather. Some programs may also have a materials fee.

For more information, call the park office at (270) 335-3681, email [email protected] or visit the website at www.parks.ky.gov. Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site is located at 94 Green St. in Wickliffe, Kentucky.

The following Hands on History events are scheduled:

* Saturday – Dig It! Archaeology For Kids

Mock excavation and artifact identification activity for children ages 5 to 12. Limit 10 children per excavation so there will be 2 sessions of this program: 10-10:45 a.m. and 11-11:45 a.m.

* June 23 – Native American Storytelling

Native American stories will be brought to life with this fun program featuring children’s author Geraldine Marshall. The program will be held inside the welcome center.

* June 30 – Primitive Technology

Try your skills with primitive technology, geared for youths, but available for all ages.

* July 7 – Gorget Necklaces requires a $1 materials fee

Gorgets are a Native American pendant worn around the neck, decorated with symbols and beads. Learn about the different symbols made by the natives of the Mississippian culture and make your own gorget necklace to take home. This is considered a great program for kids ages 4 and up.

* July 14 – Basket Weaving Workshop requires a $15 workshop fee

Skilled basket weaver Mary Greer will be on-hand to teach basket weaving for beginners in the welcome center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is required. All materials will be provided. This program is geared for ages 15 and above.

* July 21 – Birds of Wickliffe Mounds requires a $3 materials fee

Learn about the birds of Wickliffe Mounds, in nature and images, and paint your own birdhouse to take home. The program is suitable for ages 8 and up.

* July 28 – Bundle Bags requires a $2 materials fee

Visitors ages 8 and up will make a Native American bundle bag to take home.

* Aug. 4 – Natural Tie Dye requires a $2 materials fee

Find out about natural dyes from plants, and create a tie dyed bandana of your own. This is a great program for the whole family.

* Aug. 11 – Pottery requires a $1 materials fee

Discover how Native Americans of the Mississippian culture made pottery. Make and take home a pinch pot. This program is suitable for ages 5 and up.

* Aug. 18 – Corn Shuck Dolls and Action Figures requires a $1 materials fee

Native Americans and early pioneers made toys from corn shucks. Make and take your own corn
shuck doll. Not into dolls? That’s okay. Make your own action figure. Recommended for ages 5 and above.

* Aug. 25 – Gourd Art requires a $3 materials fee

The program discusses the importance of gourds to Native American Mississippian culture and beautiful gourd art that can be created from them. Make and take your own gourd bowl with paint and natural materials. For ages 12 to adult.

This topic is Native Amer-ican hunting with a demonstration of spears, atlatls and blow guns. Learn how they were made and used, and try them out for yourself.

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Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site

Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site is the archaeological site of a prehistoric Native American village of the Mississippian mound builders. Located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi river, the village was occupied from about 1100 AD to 1350 AD. The Mississippians built a complex settlement with permanent houses and earthen mounds situated around a central plaza. They farmed the river bottoms and participated in a vast trade network. They also buried their dead here with dignity and respect. After the 1300s the Mississippians at Wickliffe Mounds abandoned the village.

Early settlers to the region probably knew about the mounds at this site, but made little mention of it. The first formal notice occurred in 1888 when surveyor Robert Loughridge mapped the mounds for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Colonel Fain W. King, a Paducah lumber magnate and relic collector, purchased the site and began excavating the mounds and developing a tourist attraction. King, later joined by his wife, Blanche Busey King, opened the site to public visitation from the beginning of his work, calling the site at first the “King Mounds” and eventually naming it the “Ancient Buried City.” King directed excavations from 1932 until 1939. Some of their excavations followed proper archaeological techniques, but their field notes and other records have disappeared. In 1946, the Kings retired and donated the site to Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah. The Western Baptist Hospital owned the Ancient Buried City from 1946 to 1983.

In recognition of the scientific importance and the educational potential of the mounds, Western Baptist Hospital donated the site to Murray State University in 1983. Murray State University reorganized the site, calling it the Wickliffe Mounds Research Center and set out to accurately understand, interpret and preserve the site with archaeologists and museum personnel in charge. Beginning in 1984, Murray State University conducted small scale excavations and archaeological laboratory research at Wickliffe Mounds. In 2004, Murray State University transferred the Wickliffe Mounds archaeological site and its collections to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Commerce Cabinet. Designated as the Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site, the mounds are operated by the Kentucky Department of Parks. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a designated Kentucky Archaeological Landmark, and is a common ground for Native American Indian cultures, past and present.

The site features a museum consisting of 3 excavated mounds with archaeological features, Mississippian burial practices, displays of artifacts from the site and a mural of a Mississippian village. The Ceremonial Mound is intact and can be accessed for a beautiful bird’s eye view of the park. A Hands-On Activity Touch Table rounds out the museum tour where visitors can use prehistoric tools and learn about Mississippian artifacts, technology and their environment. Wickliffe Mounds is also one of the certified interpretive centers along the Great River Road in all 10 of the Mississippi River states that have been selected to showcase and connect the historic stories of the Mississippi River.


Native American Heritage Sites of the Great Plains

In the early-1800’s, the Great Plains formed a seemingly impassable barrier of hundreds of miles of rolling prairie. This so-called “Great American Desert” divided the densely populated East and the riches California and the Oregon Territory.

This all changed with the blazing of now-legendary emigrant trails, such as the Oregon, Santa Fe and Mormon Trails, which ran right through prime Native American hunting grounds. After the Civil War, the railroad and the slaughter of the buffaloes changed the Great Plains forever.

Many of the national parks with Native American heritage sites in the Great Plains are related to 19 th -century events and characteristics, from battles to trading posts. Some, however, also preserve important Native American cultural sites and landmarks.

To foreigners, which included 19 th -century Euro-Americans in the East as well as modern-day westerners, the Plains Indians symbolize the classic image of the “Indian.”

These were the people who lived in teepees, hunted bison, smoked ceremonial pipes, performed days-long dances, had a horse culture, and wore (war) paint and feathers.

The reason why tribes like the Cheyenne, Lakota/Dakota (Sioux), Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche and Apache have become so iconic is, of course, because of their unrelenting resistance against the westward expansion of white culture.

It’s no surprise that the most famous Native American warriors to this day belonged to the Great Plains tribes. Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Red Cloud are legendary names from the 19 th -century Indian Wars.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

Native American tribe(s): Lakota (Sioux) and Northern Cheyenne

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near the Crow Agency in Montana preserves the place where a force of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors defeated the 7 th Cavalry of the U.S. Army under the command of George Armstrong Custer

During the Battle of the Little Bighorn, called the Battle of the Greasy Grass by the Plains Indians, more than 250 U.S. Army soldiers died along with an unknown number of Native Americans.

Although it was a significant momentary victory for the people of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and numerous other prominent leaders, it did result in massive action by the U.S. government to force Native Americans onto reservations.

Within a year after the Battle of Little Bighorn, virtually all Native American participants had either fled, died or surrendered.

Nowadays, this national monument consist of a number of memorials, including the Indian Memorial, the Memorial Obelisk, and numerous U.S. casualty and Indian combatant markers.

It also contains the Custer National Cemetery, while the Tour Road allows you to retrace the course of this epic battle.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument website: https://www.nps.gov/libi/index.htm

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota

Native American tribe(s): Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara

Arguably the most important Native American historic site in North Dakota, this area was home to the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes.

This collection of earth-lodge villages near the confluence of the Knife and Missouri Rivers thrived as a trading hub in west-central North Dakota.

The hospitable Hidatsa people welcomed visitors to their villages for hundreds of years. People came here from far and wide, for their high-quality products such as moccasins, buffalo hides, flint, tools and even produce.

The Hidatsa and Mandan Indians operated a trade center where foreign products from all over North America were exchanged, from as far away as Hudson Bay, present-day Montreal and St. Louis.

Other Plains Indian tribes like the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanches and Kiowa also came here to exchange products.

Additionally, the Knife River Villages were the home of Sacagawea. She lived there when she met the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Because she understood the Shoshone language, was familiar with parts of the expedition’s intended route and married to a French fur trader, who was to serve as a guide on the expedition, she was asked to join, too.

Even though she was only 17 years old at the time, her presence proved crucial to the success of this legendary expedition.

Nowadays, the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site encompasses the remains of the Awatixa Xi’e Village (the Lower Hidatsa Site), the Awatixa Village (Sakakawea Site) and the Hidatsa Village (the Big Hidatsa Site).

A major attraction is the reconstructed full-scale Earthlodge, complete with drying racks and a Hidatsa garden. There are hiking trails and a great museum, too.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site website: https://www.nps.gov/knri/index.htm

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Native American tribe(s): Lakota (Sioux)

Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of a maze of eroded hills, buttes and pinnacles, which contain one of America’s richest fossil deposits. The park also preserves the largest pristine mixed-grass prairie in the United States.

The park is managed by the National Park Service, while the South Unit, also known as the Stronghold District, lies on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and is co-managed by the Oglala Lakota (or Sioux), one of the most famous Great Plains tribes.

Well-known Oglala Lakota included Black Kettle, Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses and Black Elk. The most renowned Oglala Lakota, however, were unquestionably legendary war leaders Crazy Horse and Chief Red Cloud.

The latter gained both respect and notoriety in the East for forcing the U.S. Army to sue for peace during Red Cloud’s War (1866-1868), the first and only Native American leader to defeat the U.S. Army in a war.

Badlands National Park’s Stronghold District contains Ghost Dance sites, which took place toward the end of the Indian Wars in the 1890’s. Additionally, the Pine Ridge Reservation also encompasses Wounded Knee Creek.

Situated just south of the Badlands National Park boundary, this is the location of the infamous 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre during which hundreds of Miniconjou Lakota of Chief Spotted Elk’s band, most of them women and children, were massacred by the U.S. Army.

Although the Stronghold District has very few roads and is nearly entirely private Lakota land, you can still visit some parts of it after obtaining permission from private landowners.

The park’s North Unit is much easier to visit and can also give you some insight into the lives of the Great Plains Indians. You can drive or mountain bike the Scenic Drive and watch for iconic wildlife, such as American bison, prairie dogs and bighorn sheep.

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Native American tribe(s): Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne, Kiowa, Ponca, Northern Arapaho, and more

The Wind Cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota plays a major role in the Lakota Emergence Story. Called “Breathing Earth” in modern-day Lakota, the cave is remarkable because it actually does appear to inhale and exhale.

The Lakota consider Wind Cave a sacred place, the very place from which they emerged from the underworld. In their origin story, the cave is a passageway containing a portal to the spirit lodge and spirit world.

In addition to this spiritual aspect, Wind Cave National Park is also a natural wonder.

One of the oldest U.S. national parks and the world’s first cave to be designated a national park, it’s noteworthy for its boxwork and frostwork. Wind Cave contains no less than 95% all of known boxwork formations on Earth!

It’s also one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world, boasting a massive maze of passageways. Above ground, unspoiled mixed-grass prairie is home to elk, American bison, pronghorn antelope and prairie dogs.

Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota

Native American tribe(s): Lakota (Sioux), Omaha, Ponca, Mandan, Shoshone, Sac and Fox, Otoe-Missouria, and more

“When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.”

Black Elk

Native Americans quarried the red pipestone in this area for numerous generations.

A sacred area to many North American tribes, it was considered neutral territory were all people could come and mine stone to make ceremonial pipes, often wrongly called “peace pipes” by white settlers.

A valued resource, pipestone from this site has been found in burial mounds and other archaeological Native American sites hundreds of miles away.

The smoke from these pipes is/was believed to carry a person’s prayers to the Great Spirit. People used these pipes for a variety of purposes, from ceremonial commitments to sealing treaties and religious prayers.

Ceremonial pipes one of the greatest symbols of Native American culture(s). As such, this is one of the most significant Native American heritage sites, especially because quarrying and pipe-making traditions continue to this day on the site.

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Native American tribe(s): Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne, Shoshone, Crow, Kiowa, Arapaho, and more

Established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as the very first national monument in America, Devils Tower National Monument is centered on a massive butte of magmatic rock.

This amazing geological feature is the world’s largest example of “columnal jointing”, a towering landmark of solid rock that protrudes from the prairie around the Black Hills.

The Native American name for Devils Tower varies from “Bear’s House” and “Bear’s Lodge” to “Tree Rock” and “Aloft on a Rock.”

Many mythical stories of several tribes, including the Lakota, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow, are related to this striking formation. Almost all of them involve a giant bear clawing at the rock to reach people at the top.

Other Great Plains National Parks with Native American Sites

  • Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado – Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho
  • Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, Colorado – Southern Arapaho, Southern Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Charles, Douglas K., Steven R. Leigh, and Jane E. Buikstra, eds. The Archaic and Woodland Cemeteries at the Elizabeth Site in the Lower Illinois Valley. Kampsville, Ill.: Kampsville Archeological Center, 1988.

Gibson, Jon L. The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point: Place of Rings. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Lindauer, Owen, and John H. Blitz. "Higher Ground: The Archaeology of North American Platform Mounds." Journal of Archaeological Research 5 (1997): 169–207.

Pauketat, Timothy R. Temples for Cahokia Lords: Preston Holder's 1955–1956 Excavations of Kunnemann Mound. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Russo, Michael. "A Brief Introduction to the Study of Archaic Mounds in the Southeast." Southeastern Archaeology 13 (1994): 89–93.


New study debunks myth of Cahokia's Native American lost civilization

A University of California, Berkeley, archaeologist has dug up ancient human feces, among other demographic clues, to challenge the narrative around the legendary demise of Cahokia, North America's most iconic pre-Columbian metropolis.

In its heyday in the 1100s, Cahokia -- located in what is now southern Illinois -- was the center for Mississippian culture and home to tens of thousands of Native Americans who farmed, fished, traded and built giant ritual mounds.

By the 1400s, Cahokia had been abandoned due to floods, droughts, resource scarcity and other drivers of depopulation. But contrary to romanticized notions of Cahokia's lost civilization, the exodus was short-lived, according to a new UC Berkeley study.

The study takes on the "myth of the vanishing Indian" that favors decline and disappearance over Native American resilience and persistence, said lead author A.J. White, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in anthropology.

"One would think the Cahokia region was a ghost town at the time of European contact, based on the archeological record," White said. "But we were able to piece together a Native American presence in the area that endured for centuries."

The findings, just published in the journal American Antiquity, make the case that a fresh wave of Native Americans repopulated the region in the 1500s and kept a steady presence there through the 1700s, when migrations, warfare, disease and environmental change led to a reduction in the local population.

White and fellow researchers at California State University, Long Beach, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northeastern University analyzed fossil pollen, the remnants of ancient feces, charcoal and other clues to reconstruct a post-Mississippian lifestyle.

Their evidence paints a picture of communities built around maize farming, bison hunting and possibly even controlled burning in the grasslands, which is consistent with the practices of a network of tribes known as the Illinois Confederation.

Unlike the Mississippians who were firmly rooted in the Cahokia metropolis, the Illinois Confederation tribe members roamed further afield, tending small farms and gardens, hunting game and breaking off into smaller groups when resources became scarce.

The linchpin holding together the evidence of their presence in the region were "fecal stanols" derived from human waste preserved deep in the sediment under Horseshoe Lake, Cahokia's main catchment area.

Fecal stanols are microscopic organic molecules produced in our gut when we digest food, especially meat. They are excreted in our feces and can be preserved in layers of sediment for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Because humans produce fecal stanols in far greater quantities than animals, their levels can be used to gauge major changes in a region's population.

To collect the evidence, White and colleagues paddled out into Horseshoe Lake, which is adjacent to Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site, and dug up core samples of mud some 10 feet below the lakebed. By measuring concentrations of fecal stanols, they were able to gauge population changes from the Mississippian period through European contact.

Fecal stanol data were also gauged in White's first study of Cahokia's Mississippian Period demographic changes, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. It found that climate change in the form of back-to-back floods and droughts played a key role in the exodus of Cahokia's Mississippian inhabitants.

But while many studies have focused on the reasons for Cahokia's decline, few have looked at the region following the exodus of Mississippians, whose culture is estimated to have spread through the Midwestern, Southeastern and Eastern United States from 700 A.D. to the 1500s.

White's latest study sought to fill those gaps in the Cahokia area's history.

"There's very little archaeological evidence for an indigenous population past Cahokia, but we were able to fill in the gaps through historical, climatic and ecological data, and the linchpin was the fecal stanol evidence," White said.

Overall, the results suggest that the Mississippian decline did not mark the end of a Native American presence in the Cahokia region, but rather reveal a complex series of migrations, warfare and ecological changes in the 1500s and 1600s, before Europeans arrived on the scene, White said.

"The story of Cahokia was a lot more complex than, 'Goodbye, Native Americans. Hello, Europeans,' and our study uses innovative and unusual evidence to show that," White said.

Co-authors of the study are Samuel Munoz at Northeastern University, Sissel Schroeder at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Lora Stevens at California State University, Long Beach.


The Mounds of North America

The American heartland was once dotted by thousands of ceremonial and burial mounds. They occurred over a large area that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains. When Europeans first landed on America and found that even the natives had no knowledge of their origin, they thought that some lost civilization unrelated to the Native Americans were responsible for their creation, because they assumed that the natives were too uncivilized and too unsophisticated to create such lasting monuments. These mysterious architects came to be known simply as “mound builders”.

Man Mound in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Ethan Brodsky

Speculations about this unknown civilization gave rise to many theories about ‘lost tribes from Israel that came to America and built the mounds, and even refugees from Atlantis. It’s now largely accepted that the mound builders were none other than ancestors of present day Native American tribes, but they lived so long ago that everything about them was forgotten.

Archaeological research indicates that the mounds were built by many different societies that lived in different periods of time that stretched from 3500 BC to about 1000 CE. Some of them were hunter-gatherers others were farmers. The earthen mounds were built for different purposes and had different shapes and sizes, that ranged from flat-topped pyramids to conical or linear structures. Some were effigy mounds built to resemble shapes of animals and human figures. The most famous effigy mound is the Serpent Mound in southern Ohio, that resembles a coiled serpent more than 400 meters long. Another mound located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, is in the form of a man and measures 65 meters long.

It is estimated that over 75% of mounds were obliterated by farmers who regarded them as mere bumps in the field and obstacles to cultivation. One early Sauk County farmer was reported to have said: “We were rather irked by the large number of Indian mounds we had to plow down. There must have been at least 25 on our land….Some were shaped like animals and some like birds, and all were from three to five feet high. I suppose we should not have destroyed them. But they were then regarded merely as obstacles to cultivation, and everybody plowed them down."

The handful of mounds that remain today are protected, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Bird Mound” on the south shore of Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Jared Kuschewski

Serpent Mound in southern Ohio. Photo credit: Geocaching.com

Serpent Mound in southern Ohio. Photo credit: Roy Luck/Flickr

At 19 meters, the Grave Creek Mound in the Ohio River Valley in West Virginia is one of the largest conical-type burial mounds in the United States. Photo credit: Tim Kiser/Wikimedia

Monks Mound, near Collinsville, Illinois, is the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas and the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica. Photo credit: John Stagner/Flickr

Monks Mound, near Collinsville, Illinois. Photo credit: Jamie Kelly/Flickr


Jackson Purchase Historical Society

Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site will host a ceremony Thursday, August 23, to acknowledge the reburial of excavated remains and restoration of the burial mound. The 10 a.m. program will include officials from the Chickasaw Nation and the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

Wickliffe Mounds is an archaeological site of a Native American village of the Mississippian culture. The site was first excavated in the 1930s by a private owner, revealing numerous burials that were placed on public view.

Murray State University took over the site in 1983 and sponsored archaeological field schools and scientific research under the direction of a professional archaeologist, Dr. Kit Wesler.

In 1991, after the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the remains were taken from public view and the cemetery exhibit was updated with new interpretive information, including replicas of a few burials. Forensic studies of the remains were performed and consultations with Native Americans began.

In 2004, the site was transferred to the Kentucky Department of Parks and became a state historic site. The remains were kept in a secure area until consultations with Native American tribes, archaeologists and further documentation could be completed.

The Chickasaw Nation has been working with Wickliffe Mounds representatives, Kentucky State Parks, other Native American tribes, archaeologists from Murray State University and the Kentucky Heritage Council for some time on an agreement for a reburial of the remains.

“It is gratifying to reach this agreement, because we have a solemn responsibility to see that our ancestors are treated with the respect they deserve,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby.

The cemetery mound project included a reburial of the Native American remains and reconstruction of the original burial mound. The Chickasaw Nation, a federally recognized tribe that has taken the leading role in consultations with Wickliffe Mounds and Kentucky State Parks, oversaw the reburial in June 2011. Wesler, of the Department of Geosciences, Murray State University, provided the archaeological support.

The park continues to develop new interpretive information to tell the story of the Mississippian people who occupied the site at Wickliffe Mounds nearly a thousand years ago, creating an educational park for all visitors to experience today.

The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which will include the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe. Marcheta Sparrow, secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Elaine Walker, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Jefferson Keel, Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, are scheduled to attend, along with the staff and volunteers of Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site.


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