Revisiting the Mound-Builder Controversy
The great earthen mounds are silent now, remnants of a past, forgotten glory. Seemingly rooted to the earth like the acts of supernatural beings, immovable on the North American landscape, they are covered over with grass and scattered here and there with trees, weeds, and shrubs. Many have suffered from the vagaries of time, cut into by ploughs, looted by shovels and picks, scarred by centuries of livestock grazing and obliterated by modern development. Major highways and interstates cut through many of them and passing motorists rarely look up from the road to ponder the mounds’ ancient significance.
These monuments occupy the Midwest, southeast, and parts of the east, and are heavily concentrated along major river systems, floodplains and minor tributaries. An estimated 10,000 mounds dot the landscape of the Ohio Valley, and nearly every major waterway in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri is rimmed by clusters of mounds. There are nearly as many tumuli in the southeast, where huge platform mounds are often surrounded by concentric, semi-circular ridges. Many are large and imposing, great earthworks like Cahokia, Illinois; Moundville, Alabama; or Poverty Point, Louisiana. Others are small, mere blips on the land, barely distinguishable from hills, that rarely go noticed by passersby. Still others play out in elaborate geometric designs that, when viewed from the air, form serpents, birds, panthers, or esoteric configurations that belie classification or seemingly rational understanding. Collectively, they are testaments to the creativity, ingenuity, architectural acumen and engineering prowess of ancient Native Americans, lost now to the hazy passage of time.
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