Friday, October 12, 2012

The Mound Builders

 North America did not have great cultures that produced pyramids or temples on the scale of South America, Northern Africa, Asia or the Middle East.  Instead the people who lived here produced mounds--thousands and even tens of thousands of mounds.  I always knew there were some--I just never knew there were so many.

When I found the little state park just outside of Memphis to spend the night I discovered there was a Chucalissa Indian reservation, a museum and a mound right in the midst.

This platform mound was created over the years 1350 to 1600 C.E.  Hundreds of people carried over 380,000 baskets full of dirt 1/4 of a mile to construct it.

There is a great deal of speculation as to what tribes built the tens of thousands of mounds scattered throughout the continent, what was the significance of the mounds, and why did the construction stop.   
According to the museum--These mounds were built by the Mississippian Culture as foundations for the temple and other public buildings.  They were constructed in stages over a period of several generations. Each time a building was replaced a new layer of earth was added to the mound in basket loads carried on the backs of the villagers.  The mound and the temple on its top were regarded as sacred and no one but the chief, his sisters, priests and temple guards were allowed there.

I have my own theory.  I agree, those mounds were used for worship where great stories where told about the origins of the ancestors,  their god or gods who created them and their world, and the ceremonies necessary to please those gods.  And those stories said, "You and your people are the center of the whole world."
But then the white men appeared and things began to change.  I noted that the last of the mound building occurred in the 1400 to 1600 period--just as the European explorers arrived.

Suddenly, it was obvious those people were not 'special' after all.  There were other strange beings,  Gods, and new creation stories that made the white tribes just as 'special'.
 I think it must have been as startling and eye-opening to the natives as an invasion and occupation by little green men from outer space would be to modern men--and their religions.  Would the Christian creation story still continue if another, more advanced culture were to appear? (That culture would certainly have to be more advanced if it were to reach us from some far-away universe).  Would our world's religions, and eventually all the churches, mosques and temples, be abandoned just like the pyramids and Indian mounds--yet perhaps replaced with a new and more 'enlightened' religion?

 Who knows?  But at the very least, I think it might be a better world if we all stopped thinking we were so 'special'.  But what great edifice would we erect if we weren't building temples to the gods? Hmm.....


  1. Good post. One does wonder what could have been built if so much time, money and lives were not sacrificed to the building of temples.

  2. Toni,
    Thanks for the informative post. It reminded me that a relative of mine had a mound on his farm near the Missouri River, not far from Jefferson City, MO. I've always been surprised that there is so little information about these huge earthworks that are scattered over so much of the great river valley areas of the country.
    Still very much enjoying your posts, hoping to see you when you get back to Tucson.