University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley : Great Wonders Lecture Series

December 8, 2014

Stretching over 2,500 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River Valley is among the richest archaeological regions on the North American continent. Home to thousands of earthen mounds, it contains both the oldest and the most elaborate monumental architecture in North America. The earliest of these monuments was constructed at least 1,000 years before the Great Pyramids at Giza and the largest is 10 stories tall and covers an area significantly larger than that covered by the Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Centuries of archaeological research have shown us that mounds were constructed by both hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists and by both egalitarian and highly hierarchical groups. Accordingly, their functions and meanings differ dramatically across space and time. Archaeologists have come to understand the various uses of earthen mounds by studying the artifacts left behind by the people who built, used, and lived near them. In this presentation, I give an overview of six mound-building cultures, the sites they built, and the incredible variety of tools and art they created.

  • Hi everyone, and thanks for watching! I just wanted to give you a few more resources that you may want to check out in order to learn more about the mounds and the people who built and used them.

    First, hese are the two sources that I would highly recommend. There are others, of course, but these two are particularly accessible with great images:

    Townsend, Richard F., editor. Hero, hawk, and open hand: American Indian art of the ancient Midwest and South. Art Institute of Chicago, 2004.

    Milner, George R. The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America. Vol. 110. Thames & Hudson, 2004.

    Second, I have been working on a map of visitable mound sites in the U.S. The map has crowd-sourced and thus exact locations are not guaranteed. If you know of additional sites, please add only those that are open to the public (i.e., in parks, archaeological preserves, etc.) or are viewable from public land (i.e., privately owned sites with historical markers on the road). Non-publicly viewable sites will be removed. Sites marked in blue have attached museums. The map is viewable here:



    • Greg Palmer

      Thank you so much for sharing your passion! Truly insightful!

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