Read to learn more about the mysterious mounds! . . .
A Pile of Earth
Aru the Strong carried the heavy earth-filled basket to the top of the ramp. After emptying the basket, he trod on the soil with his bare feet, making it solid. Aru did the same thing many times each day. He did it day after day, year after year. Was he a slave captured from a neighboring tribe? Was he a paid worker? Or did he carry the baskets as part of his religious duties?
No one knows exactly why Aru did this work. And yet we know what he was doing. He was helping to build a large earthen mound.
|The Mound Builders from The Simpsons.|
A Unique Civilization
The civilizations of the Mayas, the Incas, and the Aztecs flourished in areas south of what is now the United States. Still, within the area of the present-day United States, there were thriving native civilizations. You have already learned about the Pueblo Indians. Hundreds of miles to the east lived the Mound Builders. This civilization developed in stages. Each stage was more advanced than the one before it.
Some Europeans saw at first hand the glories of the Aztec civilization. The high level of Incan civilization is also a matter of historical record. However, no European ever saw the Mounds Builders at the high point of their civilization. And they left no written records. They left only mounds such as Aru the Strong helped to build.
When settlers moved into the river valleys of the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they saw in many of the valleys strange mounds of earth. Farmers and others who were puzzled by these piles of earth dug into them. One person who wondered about the mounds and the people who built them was Thomas Jefferson, later our third President. He excavated, or dug into, a mound on his Virginia farm.
Unlike Jefferson, most diggers were interested only in collecting artifacts from the mounds. Artifacts are objects that people have made. Among these objects are necklaces, tools, and pottery. Only a few of the diggers wondered why the mounds were built. But as time went on, the mysterious mounds attracted the attention of scholars.
|This aerial view shows the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.|
In 1890 a group of scholars working for the Smithsonian Institution published a report on the mounds. The Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., is widely known for the scientific research it carries on. Its report on mounds was based on 10 years of study. The report described vast numbers of mounds in an area extending from Ontario, Canada, southward to the Gulf Coast of Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The mounds are especially numerous in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. In the states of Illinois and Ohio, thousands of mounds have been counted.
Types of Mounds
These mounds, built by several groups over hundreds of years, are of different types. The type found most often is the small round burial mound. These mounds nearly always contain skeletons and objects buried with them. Another common typed is called the temple mound. It is flat on top but sometimes has terraced sides. This kind of mound was used as a foundation for a wooden building or temple.
|Criel Mound part of the burial mounds.|
There are several other types of mounds besides the two main ones. Geometric mounds were built in the form of circles, squares, or parallel lines. Sometimes these geometric mounds enclose an area of 100 acres or more.
|A geometric mound.|
The effigy mounds are especially interesting. An effigy mound is built in the shape of a bird, snake, animal, or human beings. The state of Wisconsin has many effigy mounds, and some can be seen in Indiana, Ohio, and other states. The Great Serpent Mound in southern Ohio and the Opossum Mound in Tennessee are famous effigy mounds. Effigy Mounds National Monument is located in eastern Iowa.
The Mound Builders worked with a purpose. They had a reason for building each mound. Some experts believe that the custom of mound building came from the south, as did agriculture. There is some resemblance between the earthen temple mounds and the pyramids of the Mayas and Aztecs.
Tribes were building mounds at different times in different places. The years A.D. 1 to 1000 were a time of great building activity. Artifacts found in some of the mounds of those years showed that a lively trade took place among well-to-do tribes of Mound Builders. Among the materials and objects found in the mounds are copper from the Lake Superior region, shells from both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, and grizzly bear teeth from the area of the Rocky Mountains.
Perhaps the most remarkable work of the Mound Builders stands today near Collinsville, Illinois, about 15 miles east of St. Louis. Its name is Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. It could just as well be called Cahokia City. The site includes a great number of different mounds. They were built by a skilled Indian civilization that disappeared about 500 years ago.
Cahokia Mounds is known as the only prehistoric Indian city north of Mexico. At its height it had a population of up to 40,000 people. Probably 30,000 more Mound Builders lived in villages nearby.
At Cahokia Mounds the main mound is a flat-topped pyramid 1,080 feet long, 710 feet wide, and 100 feet high. It covers 14 acres. It is believed to have held a massive wooden building, used for religious purposes. It is known today as Monks Mound.
Nearly 100 burial mounds surround Monks Mound. At the center of this old cemetery is the grave of a prominent ruler. Buried with him were attendants meant to serve him in the next world. Around the site of the Cahokia Mounds are the traces of a stockade that required 50,000 logs.
Imagine the length of time and the many baskets of earth it took to build the Cahokia Mounds! Mound Builders knew nothing about wheels, so they worked without wagons or wheelbarrows. They had no animals to haul earth from many miles away. All they had was the labor of thousands of persons like Aru the Strong.
Why did the custom of mound building die out? What happened to the highly organized tribes of Mound Builders? No one knows for certain. Perhaps they suffered the fate of other great civilizations of the past. Savage, warlike people have time and again invaded the lands of more civilized people and have overthrown them. This may have been what happened to the Mound Builders.
A SLICE OF HISTORY: The Banjo-Playing Collector
In the nineteenth century, Cyrus Moore made a fortune in the cotton business. Having plenty of money, he was able to pursue his hobby of collecting Mound Builder treasures. Each winter Cyrus Moore had a houseboat built to order in either St. Louis or Cincinnati. Each spring he moved aboard his new boat with a crew of strong-armed diggers. In summer, Moore's houseboat was towed or floated along the banks of the Mississippi and its many tributaries.
There were thousands of mounds near these rivers. Moore's diggers had plenty of sites for their busy shovels. The pottery, tools, ornaments, and other objects they found--like the mica hand--were cleaned and brought aboard the houseboat. While the diggers worked, Cyrus Moore sat on deck in a special chair, playing his banjo. He always played a lively tune when his men found something special.
Each fall the summer's collection was unloaded at New Orleans. Then the houseboat was sold. The next spring Moore and his crew went north to take over another new houseboat. Then they repeated the process of the previous summer. In this way Cyrus Moore built up a great collection. It was the envy of other collectors. Oddly enough, Moore displayed little curiosity about the Mound Builders or what had happened to them. He was mostly interested in collecting objects buried in their mounds. He was also interested in sitting on the deck of his houseboat and playing his banjo.
Check out . . .
Stay tune for the last part of Chapter 2 tomorrow!