What are Mound Builders?

Miamisburg Mound, the largest conical mound in Ohio
Miamisburg Mound, the largest conical mound in Ohio.

If you ever traveled to Natchez, Missippi or East St. Louis, Illinois or even to Ashland, Kentucky, you may know about the mysterious mounds that once belonged to Native Americans called mound builders. “Mound Builder” is a general term that refers to American Indians who constructed earthen mounds for burial, residential and ceremonial purposes. Mound builders included Archaic, Woodland period and Mississippian period Pre-Columbian cultures that dated roughly from 3000 BCE to the sixteenth century CE.

You can find these mounds scattered from the Great Lakes region south and throughout the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys. While descendants of mound builders are alive today, little is known about the cultures that produced these mounds. Research, therefore, is strictly archaeological and rules about investigation these mounds have been developed to prevent damage and theft.

While these mounds often are attributed to Native Americans, other theories exist to explain their construction. One such explanation includes the statement made by the Reverend Landon West, who claimed the Serpent Mound in Ohio was built by God for Eden, which evidently places Eden in Ohio. This particular mound is an unusual shape, but it is not the only one that carries a shape of a culturally-significant animal.

Most burial and ceremonial mounds were built with flat tops, but many other mounds consist of rounded cones, elongated ridges and a variety of other forms. The best-known flat top structure is the largest pre-Columbian earthwork north of Mexico. The Monk’s Mound is located in Cahokia, Illinois.

Mound builders included many different tribal groups and nations that encompassed just as many beliefs and cultures. Their only form of unity appears to be these earthwork mounds. The mounds often have been related the possibility of a cross-cultural cosmology shared among groups nationwide many years ago.

Following are a series of links that will take you to sites maintained by colleges, research facilities, historical societies, governmental organizations and more. These links provide more information about some of the many mound sites discovered throughout the U.S.:

  • Indian Mounds of Mississippi: This National Park Service site provides some history about the Mississippi mounds.
  • Cahokia Mounds: Cahokia was larger than London was in AD 1250. This site shares information about these mounds in an interactive format.
  • Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site: The 54-acre site in Georgia includes 7 mounds, borrow pits, plaza, portions of the original village and a museum.
  • Moundville Archaeological Park: Eight hundred years ago, Moundville was the largest city in North America. This site is located in what is now Alabama, and the Web site provides more information.
  • Newark Earthworks: The Great Circle is one part of the Newark Earthworks State Memorial in Ohio, the largest system of connected geometric earthworks built anywhere in the world.
  • The Mound Builders of the Ohio Valley: This site covers the mounds located in Central Park in Ashland, Kentucky.

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