A vast number of man-made mounds have been identified across the Lower Mississippi Valley in North America, spanning across incredible distances. To this day however, a great mystery surrounds this sudden burst of earthwork constructions set to have happened over 5,000 years ago and dating as far back as 8,000 years ago. At a time where native american cultures and hunter-gatherer societies were believed to only rely on primitive behaviour, the world’s largest effigies and mounds arose in precise alignment with celestial references and events. To our misfortune, no sufficient myths or traditions have survived to help us better understand these mound’s true origin and purpose. Here follows a list of the six most notable megalithic mounds discovered in North America you should be aware of when planning your next trip to these regions of the United States.
The belief that hunter-gatherer societies were incapable of sophisticated large-scale constructions was flipped on its head with the discovery of Watson Brake. It is the oldest earth mound complex so far discovered in North America pre-dating Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids (official dating). First discovered in the 80s by a local resident who brought the site to the attention of archeologists, a complex pattern of 11-12 large mounds and ridges have later been discovered to be intricately connected with solar and lunar cycles. It is only in 1997, thanks to archeologist Joe W. Saunders paper "A Mount Complex in Louisiana at 54000-5000 Years Before the Present" that its official dating was officialized.
The site was built on a natural elevation, overlooking the Ouachita River and the influent stream Watson Bayrou. The first occupants of the site came to the area during the Middle Archaic period, for the abundant and diverse resources available, allowing them to fish, hunt wild animals and gather plants in every season of the year. The site is located on private property and is owned by a local family since the 1950s. Unfortunately, access to the general public is restricted and only a handful of selected archeologists can access it to conduct research.
The great detailed archaeoastronomical assessments that have been carried out in the last 30 years or so have repeatedly proven how this incredible site was built to manifest and memorialize the relationship of heaven and earth at key moments of the year. In fact, at Watson Brake, it's the sun and the earth that take center stage with clear alignments to the summer solstice sunset and winter solstice sunrise. This raises the following inevitable question: where did this special knowledge come from before it appeared at Watson Brake?
The first survey map of Serpent Mound, made in 1846 and published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848, described the mound as "the most extraordinary earthwork thus far discovered in the West". This national historic landmark in southern Ohio, is one of the finest surviving examples of a prehistoric animal effigy mound in North America and perhaps in the world.
Believed to have been built by ancient American Indian cultures of Ohio, Serpent Mound was built nearby an impact crater linked to a giant planetary cataclysm which occurred over 300 million years ago. The Serpent head is placed at the "head" end of a natural ridge, and the undulating body follows the contours of the natural terrain all the way back to the serpent's tail.The great Manitou of Serpent Mound becomes visible in its complete splendor only from a certain altitude, and during summer solstice the open jaws of the Serpent most directly confront the setting point of the sun, symbolically swallowing an egg-shaped terrain feature.
An alignment that would have been as general and obvious 13,000 years ago as it is today, yet quite inconsistent with the most recent attempts to date it correctly. At the end of the 19th century, Harvard University archaeologist Frederic Ward Putnam excavated Serpent Mound, but found no artifacts in and around the site that might allow archaeologists to assign it to a particular epoch, and to this day archeologists are still debating the true origin of Serpent Mound. While greatly incomplete, the two leading theories link the site to the Adena and Fort Ancient cultures, relying mostly on the organic remains of these culture’s nearby activity.
In 2008, Serpent Mound and 8 other earthworks in Ohio were selected to be submitted for inscription for the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.
The National Historic Landmark of Cahokia is considered the largest and most complex archeological site north of the pre-columbian cities in Central America, covering an area of more than 9 square km, with over 80 mounds that vary in shape and size.
Similar to Watson Brake and Serpent Mound, Cahokia too draws our attention to powerful visual hierophanies. The “Rattlesnake Causeway” defines Cahokia’s principal axis, the notable Monks Mound is is famously distinct for its “cardinality” or almost-perfect alignment with the north-south axis, adjacent mounds draw geometrical crossing across the central plaza delineating perfect symmetries with lunar and solar events, and archeological traces have recently evidenced the past presence of a “Woodhenge”, an 18-meter-wide, 800-meter-lon earthwork causeway running between raised embankment.
The builders of Cahokia were most certainly acute geometricians who intertwined their understanding of astronomy and geometry (square rectangle) with the terraformed layout of the site.
Poverty point, the second largest earthwork mound in North America (after Cahokia), is a very mysterious archaeological site in northeast Louisiana. Initial surveys conducted in the 1950s realized that Poverty Point was dated between 1000BCE and 200BCE, but recent research pushed back these dates to 1700 BC.
In 2006, a team of archaeologists launched a magnetic gradiometer survey which revealed traces of over 30 great circles of wooden posts that once stood in the plaza east of the geometric ridges. Some of these were discovered to have been built only inches away from the previous ones, showcasing how the posts were erected, and sometime later removed and/or rebuilt by other occupants. On the same lines, extensive trade routes discovered around the site have demonstrated the sophisticated socioeconomic importance this site has had through the epochs.
Poverty Point is considered today the largest earthwork occupation and ceremonial site yet found in North America and has been designated as a US National Monument and Historic Landmark, as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site.