Friday, June 27, 2014

Poverty Point - Oldest Known Louisiana Civilization, 1650 B.C.E.


(Above) Color Photo: Poverty Point aerial view.

From the National Park Service website:

"Now a nearly forgotten culture, Poverty Point at its peak 3,000 years ago was part of an enormous trading network that stretched for hundreds of miles across the continent. It was - and is - also an engineering marvel, the product of five million hours of labor. Explore the culture of a highly sophisticated people who left behind one of North America’s most important archeological sites."


(Above) Color Photo: One of the mounds at Poverty Point.

From Poverty Point: A Terminal Archaic Culture of the Lower Mississippi Valley by Jon L. Gibson:

"Poverty Point is a major archaeological mystery. The mystery centers on the ruins of a large prehistoric Indian settlement, the Poverty Point site. There on a bluff top overlooking Mississippi River swamplands in northeastern Louisiana is a group of artificial mounds and embankments. It is not the earthworks themselves that are so mysterious. Eastern North America is, after all, the land of the "Mound Builders." These people once were thought to be a highly advanced, extinct race, but now are known to be ancestors of Native Americans, such as the Creek, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Natchez. The real mystery lies in the size and age of the earthworks. They are among the largest native constructions known in eastern North America, yet they are old, older than any other earthworks of this size in the western hemisphere.

 

(Above) Color Photo: Artifacts found at Poverty Point.

Radiocarbon dates indicate that the earthworks were built between fourteen and eighteen centuries before the birth of Christ. This was an eventful time throughout the world. In Egypt, Amenhotep IV, his queen, Nefertiti, and the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamen, were ruling, and the Canaanites were being enslaved. In Turkey and Syria, the Hittite Empire was expanding. In Iraq, Babylon and its lawgiver king, Hammurabi, were in power. In Crete and surrounding Mediterranean islands, Minoan civilization was reaching its peak. In Britain, Stonehenge was being completed, and in Pakistan, the great planned city of Moenjo-Daro was succumbing to flooding. In China, the Shang dynasty was flourishing, and in Mexico, the Olmec chiefdom was ascending.

At that time, almost all Indians living north of Mexico were small bands of migratory hunter-gatherers. Such societies do not ordinarily build huge earthworks like those at Poverty Point. Large-scale construction is possible when large numbers of people settle down in villages and after political forces grow strong enough to shift some labor from the hunt and harvest to the civic and ceremonial. In most of the world, these conditions--large, permanent villages and political power--are found among agricultural societies.


(Above) Color Photo: Arrowheads and spear tips found at Poverty Point.

Was it created by immigrants bearing maize and a new religion from somewhere in Mexico? Was it developed by local peoples who had been stimulated by ideas from Mexico? Did it arise by itself without any foreign influences? Did it come about without agriculture? Could hunting and gathering have sustained the society and its impressive works?


(Above) Color Photo:  Historical marker for Poverty Point.

These sorts of questions perplexed archaeologists. Limited data and disagreement over these issues made Poverty Point a real archaeological puzzle. New research has begun to clarify some of these things. We no longer regard Poverty Point as a geographic or developmental irregularity, but it remains one of the most unusual archaeological cultures in eastern North America."