The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks is a comprehensive and authoritative guide to all major and significant Native American Indian mounds and earthwork sites in America including all existing major sites with public access—publ. in 2009. Specific locations and directions are listed as appropriate. Includes significant shell rings, Poverty Point sites, Adena, Hopewell, & Mississippian era sites and many on the National Historic Register with restricted access. Oversized hardcover book, 8.5 x 11 inches, 342 pages, green cloth cover with gold foil title stamping. Nearly 1000 sites, including alternate names of mounds and locations, are included in descriptions. Arranged alphabetically by state with extensive index of site locations and names. Contains 515 photos (both old and recent), illustrations, and maps from many sources. Includes 75 completely new mound & earthwork site recreations by archaeological artist Dee Turman. The authoritative guide to America's Mound Builders.
The book contains photos and site recreations of all the top American mound sites.
America's Top 10 Indian Mound Sites
By Dr. Greg Little
America's mounds and earthworks are some of the least appreciated ancient structures in the world. Yet they are some of the most impressive and accessible ancient remnants to be found anywhere. There are probably at least 100,000 mounds still in existence but every year hundreds more are destroyed. Few people realize that American mound building began as early as 3800 BC, and that the largest and most complex geometric earthworks in the world are found in America.
In recognition of the remaining sites, here is a countdown of the top 10 remaining mound sites, as discussed in the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.
# 10 Coastal Shell Mounds
America's shell mound culture is thought to be the oldest and least understood of all the mound builders. The earliest Mound Builders constructed huge mounds of shells arranged into complex oval and geometric formations along the southern coastal areas as long ago as 6000 years, but older shell mounds are probably to be found in now sumberged areas along the coast. They are found in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and some were once located in Mississippi. Many of them are now badly eroded and not easily visited, but they come in at #10 because of their size, age, and the mystery associated with them.
# 9 Effigy Mounds Natl Mounment, IA
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa • Effigy, Linear, & Burial Mound Complex • Hopewell
National Park & Museum—located 3-miles north of Marquette, IA off Hwy. 76.
At one time, over 10,000 mounds once existed in northeast Iowa alone. At least 54 different Iowa mound groups were located along the Mississippi River once containing at least 1,438 separate effigy mounds. Nine different animal types are represented in the mounds including bears, panthers, and birds. Effigy Mounds National Monument contains some of the finest examples of the Hopewell effigy mounds known to exist today. Within the 2526-acre park are just over 200 mounds. The site was inhabited as early as 3000 B.C. but the mounds are generally dated to 500 BC to ad 1000. They come in at number 9 because of their preservation, mystery, and vast numbers.
# 8 Pinson, TN
Pinson Mounds, State Archaeological Park, Tennessee • Mound Complex • Woodland
State Park & Museum—located in Pinson, TN. From Jackson, TN take TN Hwy. 45 8-miles south to Ozier Rd. and go left 2.5 miles to the park.
Pinson Mounds, once called the City of Cisco, is one of the most important mound complexes remaining in America, with the oldest known platform mound in America at the site. In an area covering over 400-acres along the South Fork of the Forked Deer River are at least 12 mounds including the second tallest mound remaining in the United States. Sauls Mound, named after a landowner, is a truncated pyramid standing 73-feet tall with a base diameter of 120-feet. It sits near the center of the site. Over 2.1 million cubic feet of dirt was used in its construction. The five platform mounds at Pinson contain a combined 3.6 million cubic feet of dirt. The other platform mounds are between 9 to 30-feet in height with base diameters up to 140-feet. A perfect circular earthwork, called the Eastern Citadel, is about 7-feet tall and is 1190-feet in diameter. Another 33-foot tall platform mound, called Oziers Mound, has been dated to A.D. 100. and another mound at Pinson has been dated to 200 B.C. Pinson’s importance is partly due to the early dates of the platform mounds, its immensize size, and its preservation.
# 7 Moundville, AL
Moundville, Alabama • Mound Complex • Mississippian
University of Alabama Archaeological Park & Museum—located 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa, AL and Interstates 20/59 off Highway 69.
The Moundville site is a 326-acre archaeological park with 20 large, flat topped pyramid-shaped mounds arranged around a wide central plaza area. Several other mounds are also found at the site as well as smaller mound villages along the banks of the Black Warrior River in both directions. The site was constructed next to the Black Warrior River around 1200 A.D.
The 20 pyramid-shaped mounds are between 3 to 60-feet in height. The bases of the larger mounds are approximately 200 by 300-feet. Archaeologists believe that the central area of the site, dominated by the 20 truncated mounds, was walled with a palisade and was inhabited by 1000 people who were the elite members of the society. Another 10,000 people probably lived scattered around the central area in widely dispersed village areas.
Excavations at Moundville uncovered some of the most exquisite artifacts ever found at mound sites. Ceremonial axes, polished stone disks engraved with complex designs, effigy pipes, and inscribed pottery are among artifacts on display. Several intriguing designs are found on Moundville artifacts. Among these are the feathered serpent and the eye in the hand symbols. Moundville comes in at #7 because of its preservation, the vast number of pyramid mounds, and the incredible artifacts revovered there.
# 6 Portsmouth Earthworks, OH/KY
Portsmouth Group, Ohio • Mounds & Earthworks • Hopewell
National Historic Site—located in Mound Park on 17th Street in Portsmouth, OH.
On a high terrace near the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio rivers a complex and intricate set of amazing earthworks were constructed by Hopewell era people, from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000. The central point of this complex was on a high terrace to the north of the Ohio River in what is today Mound Park in Portsmouth. Two horseshoe-shaped embankments with walls 12-feet in height were the focal point of the site. Only one of these remains at the park today. Around these earthworks was a circular embankment, part of which survives today. To the east of the embankments was a truncated mound. From this central point, three sets of parallel earthen walls, spaced at a uniform 160-feet wide, ran to the northeast, the southwest, and the southeast. The walls forming the walkways were 20-feet thick and 4-feet high. The southeast walls ran for 5 miles to the Ohio River and picked up on the other side of the river in Kentucky. From that spot they ran another 1.5 miles to a complex circular embankment with a central mound. This circular earthwork was curiously arranged with the same basic shape as the Center City of Atlantis as described by Plato. This Kentucky site was nearly obliterated and a greenhouse and pasture is now located there. This formation consisted of four concentric circles with four spaced “avenues” leading into the formation. One of the avenues into the multiringed circle was made by the walkway coming from the Ohio River. The concentric circles were formed of earthen walls from 2 to 5-feet in height. In the center of the circular complex was a conical mound with a flattop. This mound was 22-feet high. This mound remains at the site. It can be visited with permission from the owner located at the greenhouse.
The walkway that led 7 miles to the southwest from the horseshoe enclosures to the Ohio River picked up on the Kentucky side leading to what is known as the Old Fort Earthworks. Dominating this earthworks area was a 15-acre square enclosed by 12-foot high earthen walls that were 35 to 40-feet wide. Each side of the square enclosure ran for 800-feet. There are 6 openings into the square. The square originally had two long “wings,” which extended to the northeast and southwest. These wings were formed by parallel earthen walls extending for 2100-feet in each direction. The wing to the southwest ran through a deep ravine and ended at a spot where the ends of the parallel walls bend close together somewhat like the opening of an eyedropper. A small circular earthwork and several small burial mounds were located at this point. Portions of the square and mounds are still there located on private land.
Portsmouth comes in at number 6 because of its intricate design, the 15-miles of earthen walled walkways, and partial preservation.
# 5 Fort Ancient, OH
Fort Ancient, Ohio • Hilltop Fort/Enclosure • Hopewell
Ohio Historical Society Park & Museum—located 7 miles southeast of Lebanon, OH on State Rt. 350.
Sometime around 500 BC, a Native American cultural group called the Hopewell erected fort-like enclosures on the flat summits of steep mountain tops in an area stretching from New York state to Tennessee. High walls of earth and stone were made along the edges of the bluffs. Sometimes huge wooden posts were embedded into the walls forming a defensive wall known as a palisade. Fort Ancient is the best example of these so-called Hilltop Enclosures. The Fort Ancient site was constructed from 100 B.C. to A.D. 500. It is a 100-acre flat area with a steep bluff 270-feet above the Little Miami River. Earthen walls up to 68-feet in width and 4 to 23-feet in height, extend over 18,000 feet in length around the outer edge of the hilltop. Fort Ancient was initially thought to be a defensive embankment, however, the presence of over 80 large gaps through the outer wall has shown it probably wasn’t a fortress. There are numerous earthen mounds, stone mounds, walkways paved with limestone slabs, and stone circles at Fort Ancient, all of which are believed to be associated in a complex way with gaps or openings in the exterior walls. Recent work suggests that lunar and solar sighting lines were employed from mounds inside through the enclosure through gaps. The site is vast and requires a steep hike up a forested hill, but it is a well-preserved example of Hopewell Hilltop Fort Enclosures.
#4 Serpent Mound, OH
Serpent Mound, Ohio • Effigy Mound & Burial Mounds • Hopewell
Serpent Mound State Memorial Park—located on Rt. 73, 4 miles northwest of Locust Grove, OH.
Serpent Mound is a 1348-foot long earthen effigy of an uncoiling snake. The snake is formed from a 20-foot wide, 4 to 5-feet high embankment of earth with stone lying at the inner base, covered by the earth. The snake is depicted with an open mouth and a circular embankment inside the mouth depicts the snake swallowing an egg. The effigy is on top of a 90-foot high promontory above Ohio Brush Creek and steep cliffs are found on several sides of the bluff. The entire hill is a strong geomagnetic anomaly. For many years it has been assumed that Serpent Mound was a Hopewell site that probably dated to 500 B.C.; however, many now believe the structure may be related to a later Fort Ancient culture, perhaps around A.D. 1000. The snake is aligned to Polaris and the head and egg are aligned to the sunset at the summer solstice. Other solar alignments were also incorporated into the undulations of the serpent’s body. Serpent Mound comes in at #4 because it is the largest animal effigy mound in the world and is perfectly preserved.
#3 Cahokia, IL
Cahokia Mounds State Park • Mound Complex & City • Mississippian
State Park—located off 7850 Collinsville Rd., Collinsville, IL just east of East St. Louis, IL.
For its sheer vastness and massive scale, no Native American mound site compares to Cahokia. Cahokia was the largest and most powerful of all Mississippian era chiefdoms extending its power from Wisconsin down the entire Mississippi River valley. The city was inhabited from A.D. 700 to 1400. Estimates of the city’s population vary; however, it is likely that about 20,000 people once inhabited the site in its vast residential areas, which covered 6-square miles. Houses in the residential areas were arranged in rows along vast plaza areas. The site originally contained over 120 mounds but only 68 mounds are inside the park. Other mounds dot the town and agricultural land around the park. Estimates are that over 50 million cubic feet of earth were used to construct the mounds at Cahokia.
The largest mound at Cahokia is called Monks Mound named for a French Trappist Monk who lived at the site in historic times. This four-terraced mound was built in stages over a 300-year period. It rises to 100-feet and covers over an astonishing 14-acres—larger than the Great Pyramid at Giza. The base of Monk’s Mound is 955-feet by 775-feet. By way of contrast, the Great Pyramid at Giza has a square base of 756-feet and covers 13-acres. On the summit of Monks Mound a huge temple structure stood. The building is estimated to have been 105-feet long, 48-feet wide, and 50-feet tall. Cahokia comes in at #3 because of its vast size and preservation.
#2 Poverty Point, LA
Poverty Point, Louisiana • Mounds & Earthworks • Poverty Point
Poverty Point State Commemorative Area & Museum—located near Epps. LA. From the LA Hwy. 17 exit off Interstate 20 go north to Epps and follow La. 577 to the site.
Poverty Point was known before 1933, but it was that year when archaeologist James Ford noticed unusual semi-circular patterns on a U.S. Army aerial photograph of the site. Subsequent examination of the site revealed a three-quarter mile long set of earthworks arranged into a semi-octagon. The earthworks were found to be elevated terraces upon which small houses had been erected. The terraces were all at least 6-feet high with a uniform 80-foot width and were evenly spaced about 150-feet apart. The combined length of the terraces was just under 8 miles. On the western side of the terraces a massive mound had been built. This mound is thought to be a bird effigy depicting an eagle with its wings spread. The mound is 72-feet tall and measures 640-feet from wing tip to wing tip and 710-feet from the head to the tail. The mound and embankments are believed to have been built around 1800 B.C. However, recent research now points to part of the huge mound possibly being erected as early as 3800 B.C. An associated mound known as the Lower Jackson Mound, located about 1.6 miles to the south, has also been dated to about 3800 B.C.—making it the oldest known mound in America.
The habitation terraces in the main Poverty Point complex were broken by straight line walkways, which were used for astronomical or solar alignments. The rising and setting of the sun on the equinoxes is seen from the paths of the walkways. The amount of earth used to construct Poverty Point is estimated at 20 million basket loads. The site is so large that visitors can go on a motor-driven tram that snakes through the site as a guide explains aspects of the site.
Archaeologists suspect an Olmec influence at Poverty Point. Some of the unique artifacts found at Poverty Point are similar to artifacts found at Olmec sites along the Gulf of Mexico in Mexico. It is also known that the people of Poverty Point engaged in extensive trading. Materials from Ohio, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and North Carolina have been excavated from the site. Poverty Point is ranked #2 because of its unique structures, massive size, and being the oldest known mound site in America.
#1 Newark Earthworks, OH
Newark Earthworks, Ohio • Earthworks & Mounds • Hopewell
National Historic Sites—operated by the Ohio Historical Society. Located throughout Newark, OH at various sites bounded by Union St., 30th Street, James Street, Waldo Street, and Rt. 16.
Newark is the largest set of enclosed earthworks known to exist in the world. Its uniqueness, vastness, preservation, and almost incomprehensible design make it the #1 mound site in America. The huge complex is divided into several distinct but connected sites including Octagon Mound State Memorial, The Great Circle Earthworks, and the Wright Earthworks.
The Octagon Mound State Memorial is nearly perfectly preserved and is the best manicured earthworks and mound location in America and perhaps in the world. The huge circular and octagon-shaped earthworks at the site have been incorporated into the pristine Moundbuilders Country Club Golf Course.
The near perfect circular earthwork at this site encloses about 20-acres and has earthen walls 8 to 14-feet high. The Great Pyramid of Giza could fit within the confines of the circular earthwork. A narrow set of parallel walls connects the circle to an earth walled octagon enclosing an astonishing 50-acres. The size of the octagon is so immense that four Roman Coliseums could fit into it. There are 8 gaps in the earthen walls of the octagon; however, sight lines from inside the octagon through the gaps are blocked at all 8 points by truncated pyramid mounds deliberately erected at each location. Several small circular earthworks, perfectly formed from low earthen walls, are located outside the octagon.
Although they are essentially now destroyed, there were originally three sets of parallel walls leading from the octagon. The walls were about 3-feet high and spaced to form flat walkways a uniform 175-feet in width. One set of walls enclosed a walkway to the south-southwest. Archaeologist Bradley Lepper, head of the Ohio Historical Society Museum in Columbus, began tracing the walls in the late 1980’s. In 1996 Lepper reported that he had evidence that the walled road ran in a straight line from the Newark octagon for 56 miles terminating at the nearly identical circle and octagon at the High Banks, Ohio site at Chillicothe. Lepper termed it The Great Hopewell Road.
In the mid-1980’s two professors from Indiana’s Earlham College, Hively and Horn , found that a precise astronomical alignment was embedded into the plans of the circle and octagon earthworks. What they found was that the geometric circle and octagon formations were used for visual alignments that tracked the moon’s cyclic movements. The moon goes through an 18.61 year cycle where the maximum and minimum moonrise and moonset is predictable. The lunar “standstill,” an event that was encoded into England’s Stonehenge, was also predicted by the sightlines in the Hopewell earthworks. By aligning the precise rise and set of the moon using sightlines on the geometric formation and its mounds, solar eclipses can be predicted.
Two long sets of parallel walls forming walkways ran about 1.5 miles to the east from the octagon to a nearly inexplicable maze of earthworks called the Wright Earthworks area. Curving linear earthworks, linear embankments, circular embankments, and long enclosures formed by walls of earth were arranged into a geometric maze. One large earthwork, part of which remains as Wright Earthworks, formed a large square that enclosed 20-acres. Seven small mounds stood at the inner edges of the square. To the southwest of the square, a set of parallel walls lead to another set of curving walls. This feature led to what was once called the Fairgrounds Circle but is now known as The Great Circle Earthworks.
Great Circle Earthworks is a near perfect circle enclosing 30-acres. Its outer wall is formed by a 9-foot wall of earth. On the inside is a moat 7-feet deep. Its size and basic layout is identical to England’s Avebury (except without the standing stones present at Avebury). The circle has one opening oriented toward the northeast. The walls of earth are higher and wider at this opening. In the center of the Great Circle is a mound, which has long been thought to be a bird effigy mound. The head of the bird is oriented toward the opening. Excavations in the mound revealed that it had been used in burial ceremonies including cremations.
The purposes of the Hopewell earthworks and enclosures has long been a great mystery and Newark has posed the greatest enigma of all. Archaeologists have simply related that they served ceremonial purposes and archaeoastronomers have found that lunar and solar events were calculated from some types of earthworks.
Hopewell and Native American beliefs have revealed that the ancients believed that the soul had to be released from its physical binding—the body—before the soul could make its way back to its point of origin somewhere in the heavens. The Milky Way is incorporated into these beliefs in that some tribal lore relates that the Milky Way is a Ghost Trail or a River of Souls making their journey back to the portal between heaven and earth.
In 2004 British science writer Andrew Collins visited Newark and was drawn to investigate the Great Circle further. At the time Collins was working on a book, The Cygnus Mystery (2006), which traced the alignments of archaeological sites in Europe to the northern sky—specifically to a constellation in the Milky Way called Cygnus. Cygnus, the stellar representation of a bird, was known to Native Americans as the Northern Cross, and it played a key role in many legends of death and rebirth. Collins found that in 100 B.C. — 2 hours before the sunrise at midsummer — the Milky Way stood straight up into the sky starting from the only opening in the Great Circle. Directly overhead and aligned in the same way as the bird effigy mound was Cygnus. Collins believes that a burial/cremation ceremony was held at specific times at the mound in the Great Circle. The ceremony was held to release the souls of the deceased and propel them through the only opening from the Great Circle into the Milky Way and on to Cygnus.
While this top 10 list can be debated, the fact remains that America's mounds are one of the most incredible yet unappreciated archaeological wonders of the world. All of America's 48 contiguous states contain mounds, yet relatively few people know of their existence. For a comprehensive illustrated guide to America's Mound Builder sites, you will find no better source than The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.