Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Testing Mounds B and E at Poverty Point

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Testing Mounds B and E at Poverty Point

Article excerpt

Testing of Poverty Point's Mound E in the summer of 2001 revealed that this structure is a pre-Columbian flat-topped mound built in multiple stages. The initial construction was a low, flat-topped platform surmounted by a layer of fine gray silt similar in appearance to ash. The architecture of Mound E resembles Mound B, except that Mound B was finished with two final conical stages. Coring in Mound B failed to document an ash lens at its base but showed that the mound was built atop a platform overlain by a layer of fine gray silt. A radiocarbon date extracted from this silt level suggests that construction of Mound B was initiated ca. 3580 cal B.P. In this article, we document the testing of Mounds E and B. We argue that these two mounds were functionally similar, and that Mound B was probably never used as a crematory facility as has been suggested previously.

Poverty Point is one of the largest yet least understood archaeological sites in North America (Gibson 2000; Webb 1982) (Figure 1). As a consequence of numerous excavations over the past fifty years, the site is no longer a complete mystery. We now know general details about how and when it was built, but our understanding of the purposes its various architectural features served is still limited. In fact, until twenty years ago the site was generally thought to consist of only three mounds (including Motley Mound) and the concentric earthen rings. Today we know that there are at least six mounds at the site (Gibson 1986, 2000; Kidder 2002). Research on the mounds at Poverty Point has a sporadic history. Ford and Webb (Ford 1955a, 1955b; Ford and Webb 1956) focused the majority of their attention on Mound B, although they did core Mound A and make contour maps of Mound A and Motley Mound. They did not recognize that Mounds C, D, and E might be part of the cultural landscape of the site, even though C. B. Moore had noted them in 1913 (Moore 1913:66-76).

Furthermore, the ages of the mounds at Poverty Point are not well established (Neuman 1984:92-94). Until our research, only Mound B had been radiometrically dated, but these dates are suspect (Gibson 1994:33) (Table 1). Other than the presence of diagnostic Poverty Point-age artifacts under and in Mound B (Ford 1955b; Ford and Webb 1956), we had no confirmed dates for any of the mounds at Poverty Point (but see below), and there are no secure dates from mounds at contemporary sites. One of the most enigmatic earthworks at Poverty Point is the "Ballcourt" or Mound E. Opinions abound concerning this mound, but until 2001 the only excavations undertaken on the mound consisted of soil coring. Based on differing interpretations of soil cores excavated from the mound, some researchers have proclaimed it a natural feature, while others have argued that it is an indigenous construction (Gibson 1986, 1987a, 1994, 2000; Haag 1990). Although the interpretation of Mound E has been hampered by a lack of data, our understanding of Mound B presumably suffers no such problem. This mound is the only one at Poverty Point that has been extensively excavated and reported. However, data from Mound B bear further scrutiny in light of new interpretations of Poverty Point mound building (Gibson 1997). In this paper, we discuss results of testing and coring in Mounds E and B during the summers of 2001 and 2002 and compare our results with data from Ford and Webb's (1956) excavations.

Mound B

Ford and Webb's (1956) excavations at Mound B were extensive. Machine-aided trenching of almost the entire southern half of the mound exposed a complete profile. Numerous trenches were excavated, but only two were carried down to sterile subsoil (Ford and Webb 1956:33-38, Figure 12).

Ford and Webb (1956:35-38) argued that Mound B was constructed in at least five stages (Figure 2). Initial construction began on what they felt was a level ground surface composed of "gray, leached topsoil." A fire pit, a little over half a meter wide and 25 cm deep, containing 32 baked clay balls "of recognizable form" plus numerous fragments and "a quantity of charcoal," had been excavated into this surface. …

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