Poverty Point: Wikis


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This article is about the US National Monument in the lower Mississippi valley; for the geographical feature in Massachusetts also called Poverty Point, see Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
Poverty Point National Monument
IUCN Category V (Protected Landscape/Seascape)
Location West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, USA
Nearest city Epps, Louisiana
Coordinates 32°38′12″N 91°24′41″W / 32.63667°N 91.41139°W / 32.63667; -91.41139Coordinates: 32°38′12″N 91°24′41″W / 32.63667°N 91.41139°W / 32.63667; -91.41139
Area 911 (3.68 km²)
Established October 31, 1988
Governing body State of Louisiana
National Park Service

Poverty Point (French: Pointe de Pauvreté) is a prehistoric archeological site dating between 1650 – 700 BCE in northeastern Louisiana, 15.5 miles (24.9 km) from the current Mississippi River[1] on the edge of Maçon Ridge by the village of Epps in West Carroll Parish. The name Poverty Point also refers to inhabitants of similar sites nearby and to the Poverty Point culture. Poverty Point culture extended 100 miles across the Mississippi Delta.

The name is derived from the plantation on which the archaeological site was discovered in 1873. At the time, researchers believed that the site was a natural formation. In the 1950s, however, aerial photographs[2] revealed the complexity and complete pattern of the man-made earthworks. The State of Louisiana protects the site as Poverty Point State Historic Site, which includes a museum and nature trails.


Earthworks' appearance

An aerial view reveals the circular pattern of ancient Indian earthworks at Poverty Point.

The core of the site measures approximately 500 acres (2.0 km2). Six concentric rings of earthworks were constructed. Recent archaeological investigations have shown that the total occupation area extends for more than three miles along the river terrace.[3] In the center of the site are a set of six concentric curved earthen ridges[1] separated by flat corridors of earth. Dividing the ridges into three sections are two ramps that slope inwardly, leading to Bayou Maçon. Each ridge is currently about three feet high,[1] although it is believed that they were once five feet high.[4] The approximate diameter of the outside ridge is three-quarters of a mile, while the innermost ridge’s diameter is about three-eighths of a mile.[1]

The central portion of the site consists of the concentric ridges and five earthen mounds. One (Mound A) is roughly T-shaped when viewed from above. A second mound is conical-shaped, and the remaining three are platform mounds, which would have supported wooden buildings. A mound located north of the main concentration of mounds, is called the Motley Mound. South of the site center is the Lower Jackson Mound. This brings the total possible mounds identified at the site to seven.

Located at the western edge of the site core, Mound A is the largest mound at the site. The western half of this mound consists of an elongated cone measuring 69 ft (21 m) high. A 32 ft (9.8 m) platform is attached to the eastern edge of the cone. These portions of the mound are joined by a ramp-like feature.[5] Mound A has been described as a flying bird effigy, and also as an "earth island" representing the cosmological center of the site.[3]

At the southern edge of the site, the Motley Mound rises 51 ft (16 m). The conical mound is circular and reaches a height of 24.5 ft (7.5 m). The three platform mounds are much smaller than the other mounds. Lower Jackson mound is believed to be the oldest of all the earthworks at the site.[1]

Earthworks' creation

Recent excavations and testing at the Poverty Point site by archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis, Murray State University, and Tulane University have shown that the site inhabitants undertook a massive program of earthmoving and reshaping the natural landscape to produce the ridges and mounds. This effort included leveling natural ridges, filling undulating gullies, and the construction of the mounds and ridges that now form the most visible aspect of the site.[3] The total volume of earth moved for the Poverty Point earthworks consists of between 750,000 and 1,000,000 cubic meters.[3][5]

Although scholars had thought construction of the mounds at Poverty Point occurred gradually over hundreds of years, recent research has shown that Mound A was constructed quickly, probably over a period of less than three months.[3] Prior to construction, the vegetation covering the site was burned. According to radiocarbon analysis, this burning occurred between approximately 1450 and 1250 BC. The area was then immediately covered with a cap of silt, followed quickly by the main construction effort. There are no signs of construction phases or weathering of the mound fill even at microscopic levels, indicating that construction proceeded in a single massive effort over a short period.[3] In total volume, Mound A is made up of approximately 238,000 cubic meters of fill, making it the second-largest earthen mound (by volume) in eastern North America.[3]

In 2009, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Mississippi State University at Starkville began digging on the plaza, which was part of the original constructed landscape, in the center of the rings. They were searching for the cause of small variations in the magnetic field, which were found since 2000 by Magnetic gradiometry surveys. The data indicate the presence of earthen circles 80-to-160 feet wide beneath the surface of the ground, likely the remnants of works of an earlier culture.[6]

Activities at Late Archaic Poverty Point

Some in the archeological community believe that the site at Poverty Point was used mostly as a ceremonial center where people congregated at various times of the year,[1] not as a city. Reasons that could have drawn individuals together during certain times of the year could be social or supernatural forces.[1] Marriages, trade, kin ties and alliances were also all important reasons for gathering.

Clay cooking balls found at the Poverty Point site

The act of building and the presence of the mounds created an enhanced “sense of community”.[1] But, evidence of “hearths, postmolds, and other features”[1] found along the ridges indicate that numerous residences were constructed in the village. Also found have been numerous handmade clay balls, which were used for the indirect heating and cooking of food. They are called "Poverty Point Objects".[7] Their presence indicates a high volume of on-site food production, thus a year-round population. Artifacts recovered in archeological excavations from Poverty Point typically are imported items, results of the wide trading network. A disproportional amount of imported items, consisting of projectile points and microliths, have been determined to have originated in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains and in the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys.[4]

There is also soapstone from the Appalachians of Alabama and Georgia,[4] and copper and galena artifacts that indicate trade with the prehistoric copper-producing region of the Great Lakes.[1] Such numerous foreign artifacts could indicate that they were gifts brought by the gathering people for ritual and social purposes. The gifts may have been deposited periodically, and over the several generations of people's using the site, slowly accumulated into the hundreds of artifacts discovered during archeological excavations. Their presence indicates that the people at Poverty Point were in contact with a wide range of groups from other regions.[1]

map of the site

The site today

The current site is a public park run by the state of Louisiana.


Tourist information

The site is a park run by the state of Louisiana and open for visitors daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The cost of the entrance is $2 a person; seniors over the age of 62 and children 12 and under are free.[4]

Recent history

“Poverty Point is the largest and most complex Late Archaic earthwork occupation and ceremonial site yet found in North America”. This is part of the Statement of Significance during June 13, 1962 for the placement of the site in the National Historic Landmark Program.[8] On October 31, 1988 Poverty Point National Monument was created by Congress, who expected the donation of the land for the National Park Service. The land, however, never exchanged ownership from Louisiana to the national government; despite this fact, the site is counted amongst the 391 units of the National Park System. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.


The site is occasionally monitored by the National Historic Landmark program, which is concerned about the erosion of the mounds. Louisiana is working with the Vicksburg Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for erosion control.[8] It was designated a National Historic Landmark on June 13, 1962.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Milner 44-50
  2. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art – Timeline of Art History
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kidder, Tristram R.; Ortmann, Anthony L.; Arco, Lee J. (November 2008), "Poverty Point and the Archaeology of Singularity", Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Record 8 (5): 9–12  
  4. ^ a b c d Louisiana – Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism
  5. ^ a b Gibson, Jon L. (2000). The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point: Place of Rings. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.  
  6. ^ "Robbie Evans, "Poverty Point dig a dirty job"". Monroe News Star. http://www.thenewsstar.com/article/20090615/NEWS01/906140328&referrer=FRONTPAGECAROUSEL. Retrieved June 15, 2009.  
  7. ^ Goad, Sharon. 1980 Excavations
  8. ^ a b • National Historic Landmarks Program
  9. ^ "Poverty Point". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-24. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=263&ResourceType=Site.  


  • [1]
  • [2]
  • [3]
  • Milner, George R. (2004). The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

External links


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