Mound Builders Of North America Mound Builders of North America The mound builders of North America have allured the curiosity of scholars and architects since the days of de Soto. Having such a long history, and being the most advanced civilization in the United States portion of North America, their history, vague and ancient, has continued to excite scholars up until current times. Mounds are scattered all over the United States as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Some, especially in Illinois and the Mississippi region, are very impressive, reaching as much as 100 feet high and covering sixteen square acres. Likewise, there are many very small mounds that are often mistaken for natural geographical features.
Mounds have been classified by scholars into three major categories: effigy mounds, burial mounds, and temple mounds. Effigy mounds are most common in the northern part of the United States near the Great Lakes and as far up as the Canadian Shield. These cleverly designed effigies are remarkable in geometric precision and very impressive, especially since it is so far unexplained how they were constructed. The purpose for the creation of these amazing earthen artworks is also obscured, hidden somewhere in the far past, but it can be assumed, judging by the general patterns of other ancient cultures, that ancient mound building people had originally designed them for spiritual purposes. Burial mounds are usually distinguishable by their cone shape, and received their name from theories concerning their purpose. The majority of architects agree that mounds did serve as mortuaries and that the elite were buried in them. The possibility that the mounds contained human sacrifices has also been considered, and many theorist that base their inferences on the similarities between the mound builders and the Mexican cultures have not overlooked this theory. The temple mounds in the southern regions of the United States are famous for the pyramid-like structure and their layered construction.
They are comparable, though not nearly as analogous in size, to the great Egyptian pyramids, and have several brow-raising similarities to the Mayan mounds and other mounds built by the Mexican Indians. The temple mounds are also noted for having had temples built at the top of each one. The chroniclers that journeyed with the Spanish explorers during the 1500s described the temples as not places of worship, but rather shrines. In addition to their mounds, the Mound Builders also left behind large enclosures. Enclosures found at the tops of mounds are thought to have been used for military and defensive purposes. James A. Brown of Northwestern University, however, argued in an article he had written that the construction of the enclosures offered no evidence of military objective, and that all archeological evidence pointed to mortuary and ritual use only.
Mounds that were built on broad river bottoms were characteristically geometrical, and they were often times connected paths bordered by low embankments. The period when the Mound Builders ruled the Mississippi valley and the central and eastern United States is actually divided into three epochs. The Mound Building cultures can be dated as far back as 1500 BC, and that time until around 700 BC archeologist identify as the Poverty Point Culture. The Hopwellian period spans from 500 BC to 400 AD, and the last period begins in the year 700 AD and ends in 1550. The Poverty Point Culture and the Hopwellian period remain mysterious, but researchers were able to gather a relatively large, however wanting, amount of information from the Mississippian era simply because it was not yet ended when the conquistadors and adventurers came to North America.
When Hernando de Soto journeyed through Florida (then a name given to basically any region where Mound Builders resided) his chroniclers repeatedly remarked on the density of the population and the abundance of maize. Maize became a staple crop around 800 AD, around the same time that the Mississippian Era began. Another feature that distinguishes the Mississippian from the other earlier eras was their use of bows and arrows to strike down game. Prior to the use of this tool, Mound Builders used the atlatl (a type of spear) for hunting. The lifestyle of the Mound Builders reflected their geographical orientation. Since they were mainly concentrated near major waterways and tributaries supplied by the Mississippi, they were able to travel by canoe and trade with other cities. Objects cherished by these people included shark and alligator teeth, pearls, conchs, feathers, and copper. They would use the pearls and other beautiful natural treasures to decorate the interiors of temples and of the homes of the chief.
Also, these precious items were used as gifts that were exchanged among chiefs and lords of separate villages at times of alliance, treaties, and other such meetings. Because of this unity among the higher powers, the traditions and customs of commoners were diverse while the customs of the elite had more uniformity. The social classes of the Mound Builders included a paramount chief called a Great Sun, allied noble lineages, lords, commoners, and possibly slaves. The Great Sun was often attired in knee-length cloaks made from furs or feathers. The succession of royalty was matrilineal, meaning the position of the Great Sun was passed to the chiefs sisters son. It is believed that these early people may have also had female Great Suns.
While their religion is hard to determine, some believe that they did share the myth of the Corn Mother. Two female figures were found near Cahokia, a very densely populated Mound Building region. One figure was of a woman kneeling on the back of a snake and stroking its back with a hoe. The other woman was kneeling before a metate, a dish used for grinding corn. The legend of the corn mother varied among the southern tribes, but all consisted of a woman that would scratch her back to give birth to corn, and later taught her descendants how to plant it.
While it is unknown how warlike the early mound builders were, the Mound Builders in the regions that de Soto visited in the mid 1500s had very impressive navies. De Soto even compared the scores of canoes to a …