Monday, May 9, 2011

Poverty Point

Day 4 - A Q&A session with our resident archeologist

Q (Mary): What is Poverty Point?
A (Amanda): It's an archaic mound site.  More specifically, it's a 3000 year old city built on ridges with a big giant bird shaped hill.

As it was 3000 years ago
(from 1000 ft in the air)

As it is today

Q.  Why is it called Poverty Point?
A.  Per our tour guide, a plantation owner bought this land and ran a plantation.  Unlike the land across the way, this land is windswept and acidic.  He got less than half his normal yield.  He's said to have exclaimed "This will be my poverty point!"

Q: What's with all the ridges?
A: 3000 years ago, people wanted to build a city and they didn't want it to get wet, so they mounded up dirt and built their huts on top of them to keep them dry on the flood plain.  The 6 ridges could have been lived on by up to 1000 people.  They also built the bird mound for ritual stuff, and a central mound where the leader lived.  If the mounds were stretched out and laid end to end, they would stretch 7.5 miles. It took approx 10 million hand carried baskets of dirt to make the mounds..

Look for alternating dark and light lines of grass - The dark lines are the ridges.
A few feet tall today, but originally would have been 8-10 feet tall

Q.  Why don't the ridges and mounds look like much anymore?
A.  3000 years of erosion will do that.  Plus, people have been farming the site for hundreds of years until 1972.  Considering how old they are, it's lucky they can still be seen at all.

The bird mound (looks like a flying bird from above)
7 stories tall today, probably 10 when first constructed

Q.  What kinds of artifacts were found there?
A. Remains of stone vessels, clay cooking balls, lots of bifaces (spear points), chipped stone tools made from materials imported from areas as far as the Appalacians and Michigan. No pottery - they didn't make any.  Lots of bird effigies and Venus figurines, and beads.

Venus figurines
Cooking stones and tools

Q. Why is this site so important archeologically?
A.  It's the second largest mound site in the USA, and the oldest.  It shows that people were living in complex societies even before the advent of agriculture and animal domestication, which were assumed to be precursors of civilization.  This site was lived in when Homer wrote the Oddessy, when the Egyptians moved from the Old Kingdom into the New Kingdom, and when Hinduism developed.

Q. Any final thoughts on Poverty Point?
A.  It was cool. I liked it.  They have a nice set up.  Also, bulldozers and mound sites don't mix.  And, if they must, you shouldn't invent findings when you don't find stuff.  And the carriage road over the one mound was pretty interesting.

The "dent" in this smaller mound was caused by excavation with a bulldozer in the 1950s.
Originally this mound was conical, with the top of the cone formed by stacking woven baskets full of dirt.

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