As Old World civilizations built legacies such as Stonehenge and the Parthenon, construction crews were just as busy in the New World—in Louisiana to be precise.
Crews here were American Indians, working with dirt and baskets instead of rocks and cutting tools. People worked countless hours in the valleys of the Mississippi River and other Louisiana waterways, shaping earthen mounds that likely served residential and ceremonial purposes.
Poverty Point World Heritage Site near the town of Epps in northeast Louisiana is the crown jewel of these ancient mound sites. A Louisiana Office of State Parks property named for a plantation that occupied the site in the antebellum period, Poverty Point is a network of five mounds—the largest being 70 feet high and 700 feet long—and six concentric semi-elliptical ridges created more than 3,000 years ago. The earthworks were the largest and the most elaborate of their time in North America, and recovered artifacts displayed and interpreted at the site’s museum indicate a large trading network that extended eastward to the Appalachians and northward to the Ohio and Upper Mississippi River valleys.
Poverty Point was recently named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it joins only about two dozen U.S. sites, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon, to have the prestigious designation.
But Poverty Point is but one of about 700 known Indian mound sites in Louisiana, and many of them are readily accessible to Louisiana travelers.
- At nearby Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, the Marsden site is believed to have been built in phases over a period of 1,000 years up to A.D. 1000. The largest mound is 13 feet tall, flat-topped and about 150 feet at the square base. Other mounds are three to five feet tall and connected by an earthen embankment.
- Marksville State Historic Site near Marksville dates to approximately A.D. 1 to A.D. 400 and consists of six known mounds on high ground near what is now Old River. Artifacts in the site’s museum bear close resemblance to items traced to the Hopewell culture from the same era in Ohio and Illinois.
- More than three dozen mound sites on privately owned land in northeast and central Louisiana are viewable from highways. Historic markers tell the site’s name, provide general dimensional descriptions of the mounds and state who is believed to have built the mounds and when. These sites can be found in Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, LaSalle, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union and West Carroll parishes.
The Division of Archaeology within the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development has a free downloadable guide to Louisiana’s Indian mound sites. For information on Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Poverty Point Reservoir State Park and Marksville State Historic Site, visit the Louisiana State Parks website.