Poverty Point State Historic Site

Location: Pioneer, Louisiana

Webpage: Louisiana State Park

General Description: Poverty Point is administered by the state of Louisiana, but is also a National Monument and World Heritage Site.  The site is unique as it is contains “the largest and most complex Late Archaic earthwork occupation and ceremonial site yet found in North America”.  Dating from 1700 to 1100 BC, this Late Archaic site demonstrates that the hunter-gatherer Indians of the time were constructing villages and ceremonial mounds.  The most notable features of the site include six concentric C-shaped ridges, which are today 0.3 to 6 feet high although they were likely significantly higher due to 150 years of agriculture.  The C-shape ridges extend from what was the Arkansas River at the time around to connect again with the river. Enclosed by the ridges is a 37 acre plaza which was modified extensively.  Within the plaza are evidence of a number of wooden post circles.  There are also a number of ceremonial mounds on the site, the largest of these being Mound A which is 72 feet tall and roughly T-shaped.  Mound B is 2000 feet north of Mound A and is today 21 feet tall.  Mound E is 1330 feet south of Mound A and is a rectangular shaped mound 13 feet tall.  Mound C is today only 6 feet high and is located within the plaza near the eastern edge.  Mound D is actually on one of the ridges and is dated nearly 2000 years after Poverty Point.  The last mound constructed on the site is mound F and is located outside the ridges to the northeast.

TrailMap

Impressions:

1) As this site is of the Late Archaic era, thousands of years prior to the mound builders of the Mississippian Culture, it is surprising to find such impressive mound builders of a culture that was suppose to be hunter-gatherers.  It can be difficult to see the ridges, except from the air, however, by letting the grass grow on top of the ridges you can make out where they are suppose to be.  Be sure to start with a trip to the Visitor Center which has some great exhibits about archaic Indian cultures, at least as well as it is understood.

VisitorCenter

2) We decided to explore the area by taking the Hiking Trail which is a 2.5 mile walk around the entire site.  I strongly recommend this as you not only visit all the ceremonial mounds, but also get multiple vantage points in looking at and making out the ridges.  The most impressive ridges are actually in the wooded area in the northern part of the site, which you can’t see at all if you are in your car.

3)  I wonder if the main purpose of the ridges was actually for flood control to get the houses above the water which would be drained by the swales between the ridges.  In other words, the ridges had a more practical use then the ceremonial use that are favored by the experts.