Platform mound

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The Kincaid Site in Massac Co., Illinois, showing platform mounds. Illustration by artist Herb Roe Chromesun kincaid site 01.jpg
The Kincaid Site in Massac Co., Illinois, showing platform mounds. Illustration by artist Herb Roe

A platform mound is any earthwork or mound intended to support a structure or activity.

Earthworks (archaeology) General term to describe artificial changes in land level

In archaeology, earthworks are artificial changes in land level, typically made from piles of artificially placed or sculpted rocks and soil. Earthworks can themselves be archaeological features, or they can show features beneath the surface.

Mound Artificial heaped pile of earth, gravel, sand, rocks, or debris

A mound is a heaped pile of earth, gravel, sand, rocks, or debris. Most commonly, mounds are earthen formations such as hills and mountains, particularly if they appear artificial. A mound may be any rounded area of topographically higher elevation on any surface. Artificial mounds have been created for a variety of reasons throughout history, including ceremonial, burial (tumulus), and commemorative purposes.


Eastern North America

A diagram showing the various components of Eastern North American indigenous ceremonial substructure mounds Mississippian culture mound components HRoe 2011.jpg
A diagram showing the various components of Eastern North American indigenous ceremonial substructure mounds
Temple Mount at Ocmulgee National Monument 15 30 186 ocamulgee.jpg
Temple Mount at Ocmulgee National Monument

The indigenous peoples of North America built substructure mounds for well over a thousand years starting in the Archaic period and continuing through the Woodland period. Many different archaeological cultures (Poverty Point culture, Troyville culture, Coles Creek culture, Plaquemine culture and Mississippian culture) of North Americas Eastern Woodlands are specifically well known for using platform mounds as a central aspect of their overarching religious practices and beliefs. These platform mounds are usually four-sided truncated pyramids, steeply sided, with steps built of wooden logs ascending one side of the earthworks. When European first arrived in North America, the peoples of the Mississippian culture were still using and building platform mounds. Documented uses for Mississippian platform mounds include semi-public chief's house platforms, public temple platforms, mortuary platforms, charnel house platforms, earth lodge/town house platforms, residence platforms, square ground and rotunda platforms, and dance platforms. [1]

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

Woodland period period of North American pre-Columbian cultures

In the classification of Archaeological cultures of North America, the Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures spanned a period from roughly 1000 BCE to European contact in the eastern part of North America, with some archaeologists distinguishing the Mississippian period, from 1000 CE to European contact as a separate period. The term "Woodland Period" was introduced in the 1930s as a generic term for prehistoric sites falling between the Archaic hunter-gatherers and the agriculturalist Mississippian cultures. The Eastern Woodlands cultural region covers what is now eastern Canada south of the Subarctic region, the Eastern United States, along to the Gulf of Mexico.

Poverty Point culture Archaeological culture that inhabited the lower Mississippi Valley

Poverty Point culture is an archaeological culture that of a prehistoric indigenous peoples who inhabited a portion of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf coast from about 1730 - 1350 BC.

Many of the mounds underwent multiple episodes of mound construction, with the mound becoming larger with each event. The site of a mound was usually a site with special significance, either a pre-existing mortuary site or civic structure. This site was then covered with a layer of basket-transported soil and clay known as mound fill and a new structure constructed on its summit. At periodic intervals averaged about twenty years these structures would be removed, possibly ritually destroyed as part of renewal ceremonies, [2] and a new layer of fill added, along with a new structure on the now higher summit. Sometimes the surface of the mounds would get a several inches thick coat of brightly colored clay. [2] [3] These layers also incorporated layers of different kinds of clay, soil and sod, an elaborate engineering technique to forestall slumping of the mounds and to ensure their steep sides did not collapse. This pattern could be repeated many times during the life of a site. [4] The large amounts of fill needed for the mounds left large holes in the landscape now known by archaeologists as "borrow pits". These pits were sometimes left to fill with water and stocked with fish. [5]

Clay A finely-grained natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals

Clay is a finely-grained natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals with possible traces of quartz (SiO2), metal oxides (Al2O3, MgO etc.) and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure. Clays are plastic due to particle size and geometry as well as water content, and become hard, brittle and non–plastic upon drying or firing. Depending on the soil's content in which it is found, clay can appear in various colours from white to dull grey or brown to deep orange-red.

Borrow pit

In construction and civil engineering, a borrow pit, also known as a sand box, is an area where material has been dug for use at another location. Borrow pits can be found close to many major construction projects. For example, soil might be excavated to fill an embankment for a highway, clay might be excavated for use in brick-making, gravel to be used for making concrete, etc.

Some mounds were developed with separate levels (or terraces) and aprons, such as Emerald Mound, which is one large terrace with two smaller mounds on its summit; or Monks Mound, which has four separate levels and stands close to 100 feet (30 m) in height. Monks Mound had at least ten separate periods of mound construction over a 200-year period. Some of the terraces and aprons on the mound seem to have been added to stop slumping of the enormous mound. [6]

Monks Mound part of Cahokia, the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas and the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica

Monks Mound is the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas and the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica. The beginning of its construction dates from 900-955 CE. Located at the Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site near Collinsville, Illinois, the mound size was calculated in 1988 as about 100 feet high, 955 feet long including the access ramp at the southern end, and 775 feet wide. This makes Monks Mound roughly the same size at its base as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The perimeter of its base is larger than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. As a platform mound, the earthwork supported a wooden structure on the summit.

Although the mounds were primarily meant as substructure mounds for buildings or activities, sometimes burials did occur. Intrusive burials occurred when a grave was dug into a mound and the body or a bundle of defleshed, disarticulated bones was deposited into it. Mound C at Etowah has been found to have more than 100 intrusive burials into the final layer of the mound, with many grave goods such as Mississippian copper plates (Etowah plates), monolithic stone axes, ceremonial pottery and carved whelk shell gorgets. Also interred in this mound was a paired set of white marble Mississippian stone statues. [3]

Mississippian copper plates

Mississippian copper plates, or plaques, are plain and repousséd plates of beaten copper crafted by peoples of the various regional expressions of the Mississippian culture between 800 and 1600 CE. They have been found as artifacts in archaeological sites in the American Midwest and Southeast. The plates, found as far afield as Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, were instrumental in the development of the archaeological concept known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Some of the more notable examples are representations of raptorial birds and avian-themed dancing warriors.

Etowah plates collection of Mississippian copper plates discovered at the Etowah Indian Mounds

The Etowah plates, including the Rogan Plates, are a collection of Mississippian copper plates discovered in Mound C at the Etowah Indian Mounds near Cartersville, Georgia. Many of the plates display iconography that archaeologists have classified as part of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (S.E.C.C.), specifically "Birdman" imagery associated with warriors and the priestly elite. The plates are a combination of foreign imports and local items manufactured in emulation of the imported style. The designs of the Rogan plates are in the Classic Braden style from the American Bottom area. It is generally thought that some of the plates were manufactured at Cahokia before ending up at sites in the Southeast.

Mississippian culture pottery

Mississippian culture pottery is the ceramic tradition of the Mississippian culture found as artifacts in archaeological sites in the American Midwest and Southeast. It is often characterized by the adoption and use of riverine shell-tempering agents in the clay paste. Shell tempering is one of the hallmarks of Mississippian cultural practices. Analysis of local differences in materials, techniques, forms, and designs is a primary means for archaeologists to learn about the lifeways, religious practices, trade, and interaction among Mississippian peoples. The value of this pottery on the illegal antiquities market has led to extensive looting of sites.


A long-standing interpretation of Mississippian mounds comes from Vernon James Knight, who stated that the Mississippian platform mounds were one of the three "sacra", or objects of sacred display, of the Mississippian religion - also see Earth/fertility cult and Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. His logic is based on analogy to ethnographic and historic data on related Native American tribal groups in the Southeastern United States.

Earth/fertility cult

The Earth/fertility Mississippian cult was associated with earthen platform mounds.

Southeastern Ceremonial Complex regional similarity of Mississippian cultures

The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, aka S.E.C.C., is the name given to the regional stylistic similarity of artifacts, iconography, ceremonies, and mythology of the Mississippian culture that coincided with their adoption of maize agriculture and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 to 1650 CE. This development appears to have no direct links to Mesoamerica, but developed independently. This ceremonial complex represents a major component of the religion of the Mississippian peoples, and is one of the primary means by which their religion is understood.

Logic the systematic study of the form of arguments

Logic is the systematic study of the form of valid inference, and the most general laws of truth. A valid inference is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the inference and its conclusion. In ordinary discourse, inferences may be signified by words such as therefore, hence, ergo, and so on.

Knight suggests a microcosmic ritual organization based around a "native earth" autochthony, agriculture, fertility, and purification scheme, in which mounds and the site layout replicate cosmology. Mound rebuilding episodes are construed as rituals of burial and renewal, while the four-sided construction acts to replicate the flat earth and the four quarters of the earth. [7] [8]

Platform mounds - other cultures

The use of platform mounds is documented elsewhere in the world, including:

See also

Related Research Articles

Cahokia archaeological site near East St. Louis, Illinois, United States

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city directly across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri. This historic park lies in southern Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville. The park covers 2,200 acres (890 ha), or about 3.5 square miles (9 km2), and contains about 80 mounds, but the ancient city was much larger. In its heyday, Cahokia covered about 6 square miles (16 km2) and included about 120 manmade earthen mounds in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and functions.

Etowah Indian Mounds archaeological site in Bartow County, Georgia

Etowah Indian Mounds (9BR1) are a 54-acre (220,000 m2) archaeological site in Bartow County, Georgia south of Cartersville, in the United States. Built and occupied in three phases, from 1000–1550 AD, the prehistoric site is located on the north shore of the Etowah River. Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site is a designated National Historic Landmark, managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. It is the most intact Mississippian culture site in the Southeastern United States.

Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park Park in Tallahassee, Florida

Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park (8LE1) is one of the most important archaeological sites in Florida, the capital of chiefdom and ceremonial center of the Fort Walton Culture inhabited from 1050–1500. The complex originally included seven earthwork mounds, a public plaza and numerous individual village residences.

A step pyramid or stepped pyramid is an architectural structure that uses flat platforms, or steps, receding from the ground up, to achieve a completed shape similar to a geometric pyramid. Step pyramids are structures which characterized several cultures throughout history, in several locations throughout the world. These pyramids typically are large and made of several layers of stone. The term refers to pyramids of similar design that emerged separately from one another, as there are no firmly established connections between the different civilizations that built them.

Shiloh Indian Mounds Site

Shiloh Indian Mounds Site (40HR7) is an archaeological site of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture. It is located beside the Tennessee River on the grounds of the Shiloh National Military Park, in Hardin County of southwestern Tennessee. A National Historic Landmark, it is one of the largest Woodland era sites in the southeastern United States.

Spiro Mounds

Spiro Mounds is a major Northern Caddoan Mississippian archaeological site located in present-day Eastern Oklahoma. The 80-acre site lies near the Arkansas River, seven miles north of the town of Spiro.

Town Creek Indian Mound National Historic Landmark in North Carolina

Town Creek Indian Mound is a prehistoric Native American archaeological site located near present-day Mount Gilead, Montgomery County, North Carolina, in the United States. The site, whose main features are a platform mound with a surrounding village and wooden defensive palisade, was built by the Pee Dee, a South Appalachian Mississippian culture people that developed in the region as early as 980 CE. They thrived in the Pee Dee River region of North and South Carolina during the Pre-Columbian era. The Town Creek site was an important ceremonial site occupied from about 1150—1400 CE. It was abandoned for unknown reasons. It is the only ceremonial mound and village center of that culture located within North Carolina.

Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site Archaeological site in Illinois, US

The Kincaid Mounds Historic Site c. 1050–1400 CE, is the site of a city from the prehistoric Mississippian culture. One of the largest settlements of the Mississippian culture, it was located at the southern tip of present-day U.S. state of Illinois. Kincaid Mounds has been notable for both its significant role in native North American prehistory and for the central role the site has played in the development of modern archaeological techniques. The site had at least 11 substructure platform mounds. Artifacts from the settlement link its major habitation and the construction of the mounds to the Mississippian period, but it was also occupied earlier during the Woodland period.

The Pisgah Phase is an archaeological phase of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture in parts of northeastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northwestern South Carolina.

Plaquemine culture archaeological culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley, United States

The Plaquemine culture was an archaeological culture centered on the Lower Mississippi River valley. It had a deep history in the area stretching back through the earlier Coles Creek and Troyville cultures to the Marksville culture. The Natchez and related Taensa peoples were their historic period descendants. The type site for the culture is the Medora Site in Louisiana; while other examples include the Anna, Emerald, Holly Bluff, and Winterville sites in Mississippi.

The Wilbanks Site (9CK5) is a Late Mississippian culture Native American archaeological site in Cherokee County, Georgia, United States. The site was located about midway between the towns of Cartersville, Georgia to the west, and Canton, Georgia to the east. It was on the south bank of the Etowah River, but is now submerged underneath Lake Allatoona, under roughly 80–90 feet of water.

Chauga Mound

The Chauga Mound (38OC1) is an archaeological site once located on the northern bank of the Tugaloo River 1,200 feet (370 m) north of the mouth of the Chauga River in Oconee County, South Carolina in the Lake Hartwell Basin. The mound is now inundated by Lake Hartwell. The mound and village portion of the site was built by peoples of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture

Dyar site

The Dyar site (9GE5) is an archaeological site in Greene County, Georgia, in the north central Piedmont physiographical region. The site covers an area of 2.5 hectares. It was inhabited almost continuously from 1100 to 1600 by a local variation of the Mississippian culture known as the South Appalachian Mississippian culture. Although submerged under Lake Oconee, the site is still important as one of the first explorations of a large Mississippian culture mound. The Dyar site is thought to have been one of the principal towns of the paramount chiefdom of Ocute, perhaps Cofaqui.

Mill Cove Complex

The Mill Cove Complex is a group of prehistoric archaeological sites located in Duval County, Florida built by people of the St. Johns culture approximately 900 to 1250 CE. The site encompasses 2 sand mounds, Grant Mound (8DU14) and the contemporaneous Shields Mound (8DU12) located 750 metres (0.47 mi) away, and an area in between the two which is full of St. Johns culture midden deposits.

Mound 34

Mound 34 is a small platform mound located roughly 400 metres (1,300 ft) to the east of Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Illinois. Excavations near Mound 34 from 2002–2010 revealed the remains of a copper workshop, although the one of a kind discovery had been previously found in the late 1950s by archaeologist Gregory Perino, but lost for 60 years. It is so far the only remains of a copper workshop found at a Mississippian culture archaeological site.

Emmons Cemetery Site

The Emmons Cemetery Site, also known as the Emmons Site, is a Middle Mississippian culture archaeological site located in Kerton Township, Fulton County, Illinois, on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Illinois River to its east. The location was a used as a cemetery and several unique and rare items were found interred with the burials.

Long Swamp Site

Long Swamp Site is a 4-acre (16,000 m2) archaeological site in Cherokee County, Georgia on the north shore of the Etowah River near St Rt 372. The site consists of a South Appalachian Mississippian culture village with a palisade and a platform mound.


  1. Owen Lindauer; John H. Blitz (1997). "Higher Ground: The Archaeology of North American Platform Mounds" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Research. 5 (2). Retrieved 2011-11-02.
  2. 1 2 Raymond Fogelson (September 20, 2004). Handbook of North American Indians : Southeast. Smithsonian Institution. p. 741. ISBN   978-0-16-072300-1.
  3. 1 2 Henry van der Schalie; Paul W. Parmalee (September 1960). "The Etowah Site, Mound C :Barlow County, Georgia". Florida Anthropologist. 8: 37–39.
  4. Gregory Vogel. "Cavanaugh : A Late Prehistoric Platform Mound in Western Arkansas". Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2011-10-26.
  5. "Alabama Archaeology: Prehistoric Alabama". Archived from the original on 2011-12-23. Retrieved 2011-10-26.
  6. Skele, Mike (1988). "The Great Knob". Studies in Illinois Archaeology. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (4): 102–103. ISBN   978-0-942579-03-1.
  7. Knight, Vernon J., Jr. (1981). Mississippian Ritual (Ph.D. thesis). University of Florida.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Knight, Vernon J., Jr. (1986). "The Institutional Organization of Mississippian Religion". American Antiquity . 51 (4): 675–687. doi:10.2307/280859. JSTOR   280859.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)