Mound builders of north america Essay

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mound builders of north america



Mound Builders of North America

The mound builders of North America have allured the curiosity of scholars and architects
since the days of de Soto. Having such a long history, and being the most advanced
civilization in the United States portion of North America, their history, vague and
ancient, has continued to excite scholars up until current times.

Mounds are scattered all over the United States as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Some,
especially in Illinois and the Mississippi region, are very impressive, reaching as much
as 100 feet high and covering sixteen square acres. Likewise, there are many very small
mounds that are often mistaken for natural geographical features. Mounds have been
classified by scholars into three major categories: effigy mounds, burial mounds, and
temple mounds. Effigy mounds are most common in the northern part of the United States
near the Great Lakes and as far up as the Canadian Shield. These cleverly designed
effigies are remarkable in geometric precision and very impressive, especially since it is
so far unexplained how they were constructed. The purpose for the creation of these
amazing earthen artworks is also obscured, hidden somewhere in the far past, but it can be
assumed, judging by the general patterns of other ancient cultures, that ancient mound
building people had originally designed them for spiritual purposes. Burial mounds are
usually distinguishable by their cone shape, and received their name from theories
concerning their purpose. The majority of architects agree that mounds did serve as
mortuaries and that the elite were buried in them. The possibility that the mounds
contained human sacrifices has also been considered, and many theorist that base their
inferences on the similarities between the mound builders and the Mexican cultures have
not overlooked this theory. The temple mounds in the southern regions of the United
States are famous for the pyramid-like structure and their layered construction. They are
comparable, though not nearly as analogous in size, to the great Egyptian pyramids, and
have several brow-raising similarities to the Mayan mounds and other mounds built by the
Mexican Indians. The temple mounds are also noted for having had temples built at the top
of each one. The chroniclers that journeyed with the Spanish explorers during the 1500’s
described the temples as not places of worship, but rather shrines.

In addition to their mounds, the Mound Builders also left behind large enclosures.
Enclosures found at the tops of mounds are thought to have been used for military and
defensive purposes. James A. Brown of Northwestern University, however, argued in an
article he had written that the construction of the enclosures offered no evidence of
military objective, and that all archeological evidence pointed to mortuary and ritual use
only. Mounds that were built on broad river bottoms were characteristically geometrical,
and they were often times connected paths bordered by low embankments.

The period when the Mound Builders ruled the Mississippi valley and the central and
eastern United States is actually divided into three epochs. The Mound Building cultures
can be dated as far back as 1500 BC, and that time until around 700 BC archeologist
identify as the Poverty Point Culture. The Hopwellian period spans from 500 BC to 400 AD,
and the last period begins in the year 700 AD and ends in 1550. The Poverty Point Culture
and the Hopwellian period remain mysterious, but researchers were able to gather a
relatively large, however wanting, amount of information from the Mississippian era simply
because it was not yet ended when the conquistadors and adventurers came to North America.
When Hernando de Soto journeyed through Florida (then a name given to basically any
region where Mound Builders resided) his chroniclers repeatedly remarked on the density of
the population and the abundance of maize. Maize became a staple crop around 800 AD,
around the same time that the Mississippian Era began. Another feature that distinguishes
the Mississippian from the other earlier eras was their use of bows and arrows to strike
down game. Prior to the use of this tool, Mound Builders used the atlatl (a type of
spear) for hunting.

The lifestyle of the Mound Builders reflected their geographical orientation. Since they
were mainly concentrated near major waterways and tributaries supplied by the Mississippi,
they were able to travel by canoe and trade with other cities. Objects cherished by these
people included shark and alligator teeth, pearls, conchs, feathers, and copper. They
would use the pearls and other beautiful natural treasures to decorate the interiors of
temples and of the homes of the chief. Also, these precious items were used as gifts that
were exchanged among chiefs and lords of separate villages at times of alliance, treaties,
and other such meetings. Because of this unity among the higher powers, the traditions
and customs of commoners were diverse while the customs of the elite had more uniformity.

The social classes of the Mound Builders included a paramount chief called a Great Sun,
allied noble lineages, lords, commoners, and possibly slaves. The Great Sun was often
attired in knee-length cloaks made from furs or feathers. The succession of royalty was
matrilineal, meaning the position of the Great Sun was passed to the chief’s sister’s son.
It is believed that these early people may have also had female Great Suns.

While their religion is hard to determine, some believe that they did share the myth of
the Corn Mother. Two female figures were found near Cahokia, a very densely populated
Mound Building region. One figure was of a woman kneeling on the back of a snake and
stroking its back with a hoe. The other woman was kneeling before a metate, a dish used
for grinding corn. The legend of the corn mother varied among the southern tribes, but
all consisted of a woman that would scratch her back to give birth to corn, and later
taught her descendants how to plant it.

While it is unknown how warlike the early mound builders were, the Mound Builders in the
regions that de Soto visited in the mid 1500’s had very impressive navies. De Soto even
compared the scores of canoes to a famous armada of galleys. The warriors themselves were
painted with ocher and wore many feathers. They would stand upright on the canoes, and
they had elaborately decorated leather shields with which to protect themselves and the
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