Poverty Point is indeed a rare remnant of an exceptional culture. It has been estimated that it took at least five million hours of labor to build the massive earthworks. Considering that the laborers carried this dirt to the site in baskets of about a 50-pound capacity, it is obvious that this was a great communal engineering feat. Dated between 1700 and 1100 B.C., this site is unique among archaeological sites on this continent. The site has recently been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, adding to its designations of National Historic Landmark in 1962 by the U.S. Department of the Interior and as a Smithsonian Affiliate in 2010.
The Poverty Point inhabitants set for themselves an enormous task as they built a complex array of earthen mounds and ridges overlooking the Mississippi River flood plain. This accomplishment is particularly impressive for a pre-agricultural society. The central construction consists of six rows of concentric ridges, parts of which are as high as five feet. The ridges form a semi-ellipse, or C-shape, divided into sections by at least four aisles. The diameter of the outermost ridge measures three-quarters of a mile. Archaeologists conclude that people lived on the ridges, based on abundant artifacts and other remains uncovered during excavations.
Arrayed around the ridges are six mounds, five of which were built by the Poverty Point inhabitants. These mounds range in height from six and a half feet to 72 feet. The massive Mound A was constructed using over 10 million basket loads of soil. No evidence has been found to indicate that the mounds were habitation sites, so their purpose was most likely ceremonial.
Poverty Point's inhabitants imported stone and ore from distant sources. Projectile points and other stone tools found at Poverty Point were made from raw materials that originated in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains and in the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys. Soapstone vessels came from the Appalachian foothills of northern Alabama and Georgia. Other materials came from distant places in the eastern United States. The extensive trade network attests to the complex and sophisticated society that built the Poverty Point earthworks.
Official Great River Road Interpretive Center
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The scenic route passes through 10 states and hundreds of river towns. Learn more >