In New Orleans we preserve our nineteenth century French Quarter architecture out of fear that we might lose or damage something old and precious from our culture. We defend the importance of these relatively new buildings within our relatively new country against the importance of the Medieval and Renaissance structures of Europe.
And yet, we have no reason to be defensive. Discussions of context and recent history aside, the state of Louisiana holds complex man-made structures and archeological finds dating back more than 5,000 years.
Each ridge 4-6 ft high when built, 50 ft across top, 100 ft in between. Imagine without trees but with huts.
“Poverty Point archaeology,” writes anthropologist Jon L. Gibson, “consists of a few facts, lots of interpretations, and much that is not known.”
Indeed the site, named for a nineteenth century nearby farm and spreading one hundred miles on Bayou Marcon in the Mississippi River delta, stands out in a state so flat that in the 1930s the New Orleans Audubon Zoo piled up layers of dirt to “show the children of New Orleans what a hill looks like.” (from the zoo’s website, describing ‘Monkey Hill.’)
“These Indians had it made,” commented my husband, recalling our camping trip in the Grand Canyon. “Think of the Anasazi, living within caves hundreds of feet above the ground and trapped each winter by the snow.”
My imagination traveled further and my astonishment peaked as we grasped that the oldest mound in this area of Louisiana dates to 3900 B.C. This is 1500 years before the Egyptians built the pyramids at Giza!
By some miracle of estimation, archaeologists claim that 23,000 people lived at Poverty Point in 1300 B.C. during the height of its culture, the same period that King Tutankhamun ruled Egypt. They spent their time hunting for food, weaving baskets, and hauling dirt for these mounds, some requiring the equivalent of 16,000 dump truck loads, or 10-12 million filled baskets.
The unnamed American Indian tribe lived on top of the concentric ridges, affording drainage and order for their thatched huts. The Bayou Marcon at that time was a lake, and the Mississippi River flowed only three miles away.
Wendy Rodrigue (a.k.a. Dolores Pepper)
-The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point: Place of Rings by Jon L. Gibson, University Press of Florida, 2001
-The official Poverty Point website, maintained by the U.S. National Park Service
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