Summer fieldwork at Poverty Point dates enigmatic buried features

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Poverty_Pt_satellite_wide

Satellite view of the Poverty Point site, from Google Earth. North is to the right in this screen grab.

Poverty Point is a famous prehistoric mound and village site in far northeast Louisiana, along a terrace adjacent to a tributary of the Mississippi River now called Bayou Marçon. The most dramatic earthen structures are a series of broken concentric arcs; however, several more traditionally shaped circular/rectangular mounds predate the arc-shaped earthworks. The arcs “face” east, or toward the rising sun. In the photo above, east is to the bottom of the image.

This summer (2009), the site, a State Park, hosted a research team lead by Diana Greenlee, of the Department of Geosciences at University of Louisiana at Monroe. According to the online news website thenewstar.com of Monroe, Greenlee and ULM students undertook excavations in the central plaza area to enable them to better understand buried circular features. Greenlee says that they can now date each of the four circles they tested. “We were able to establish that the different magnetic characteristics of the circles in the plaza correspond to different kinds of constructions,” she said, according to thenewstar.com article.

The Poverty Point are dated to the Terminal Archaic, approximately 1650–700 BC. Artifacts from the site include stone tools and other objects that came from afar, so the occupants of the site had access to a long-distance trading network, or traveled far themselves to bring these special objects back home.

The Louisiana park website for Poverty Point includes the text of a 1996 (second edition) volume on the site called “Poverty Point: A Terminal Archaic Culture of the Lower Mississippi Valley” by Jon L. Gibson. The text has been divided for easier loading and reading:

  • Front matter and Introduction
  • Poverty Point culture
  • Food and everyday tools
  • Trade and trade goods
  • Sociopolitical organization and bibliography