Ancestral Mounds: Vitality and Volatility of Native America

Ancestral Mounds: Vitality and Volatility of Native America

Ancestral Mounds: Vitality and Volatility of Native America

Ancestral Mounds: Vitality and Volatility of Native America


Ancestral Mounds deconstructs earthen mounds and myths in examining their importance in contemporary Native communities. Two centuries of academic scholarship regarding mounds have examined who, what, where, when, and how, but no serious investigations have addressed the basic question, why? Drawing on ethnographic and archaeological studies, Jay Miller explores the wide-ranging themes and variations of mounds, from those built thousands of years ago to contemporary mounds, focusing on Native southeastern and Oklahoma towns. Native peoples continue to build and refurbish mounds each summer as part of their New Year's celebrations to honor and give thanks for ripening maize and other crops and to offer public atonement. The mound is the heart of the Native community, which is sustained by song, dance, labor, and prayer. The basic purpose of mounds across North America is the same: to serve as a locus where community effort can be engaged in creating a monument of vitality and a safe haven in the volatile world.


We Creeks are proud of our tradition of mound building. in our homeland (today’s Alabama and Georgia) each ancestral town (etvlwv) had its own mounds, large and small. Every year at the Buskita Green Corn some were renewed along with the earth. Soils and mementos of these mounds were carried west to Oklahoma when we were forced to move away. From these heirlooms, new smaller mounds were started in our new towns. These mounds of today contrast in size to the huge ones of our past. Their size called for special techniques and abilities, which faded. in the hope that all Creeks will soon come together to build a modern great mound, our basket makers relearned the art of making weight-bearing baskets with strong rims. Expressing shared effort, community wellness, and beloved heritages, this project moves forward.

Today about a dozen towns maintain ceremonial grounds and mounds, while other etvlwv have converted into a Methodist or Baptist church keeping the same name. Both communities have camps and arbors focused on the East, with the church in the central place of the fire. Hymns in our language hold us together, along with fellowship and communion.

Our towns and churches honor fours, such as the directions and seasons. At ceremonial grounds the foursome of soil, song, stomp, and spirit are especially vital. Ancestral Mounds helps to explain why this is so and why they will continue until the end of time.


Honorable Alfred Berryhill†

Past Second Chief (vpoktv ~ “Twin”) of the Creek Nation

Cultural Preservation Office, Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Okmulgee, Oklahoma

† Rev. Berryhill went across on 31 August 2013

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