Native American history is all over Mississippi.
Literally. The state’s landscape is teeming with stories of inhabitants from thousands of years ago. You just have to know where to look for it, and a good place to start is the Natchez Trace Parkway. Several historic mounds, used by Native Americans for everything from burials to ceremonies, can be found along the famous parkway. At first glance, these mounds may not look like much but archaeological excavations and studies definitely prove otherwise. Read on and learn more about some of the amazing discoveries made by archaeologists in Mississippi.
1. Bear Creek Mound, 45 miles northeast of Tupelo
Built in several stages, the mound at this site served both ceremonial and elite residential purposes sometime between 1100 AD and 1300 AD, which is considered the Mississippian period. During archaeological excavations, burned daub, a mud plaster used in construction, was found, indicating that a temple or chief’s house formerly stood in the area.
2. Pharr Mounds, 23 miles northeast of Tupelo
The Pharr Mounds site, which consists of eight burial mounds, was constructed sometime between 1 AD and 200 AD, and is one of the largest Middle Woodland ceremonial sites in the southeastern United States. When the mounds were excavated in 1966, internal features, such as fire pits and clay platforms, were recovered.
Additionally, the excavation resulted in the finding of cremated and unburned human remains and ceremonial artifacts, including copper spools, decorated ceramic vessels, lumps of shiny led ore, a sheet of mica, and a greenstone platform pipe. At the time of the excavation, it was determined the copper, galena, mica, and greenstone did not originate in Mississippi, leading archaeologists to the conclusion the materials had been transported long distances, which was typical of the Middle Woodland period.
3. Owl Creek Site, 18 miles southwest of Tupelo
Consisting of five mounds, this site is believed to have been built between 1100 AD and 1200 AD. Mound 1, the site’s largest mound, stands at 17’ tall. Findings during a 1991–1992 excavation of Mound 1 revealed a ceremonial temple or elite residence once stood atop it. Structural remains were found on two other mounds as well, but since there wasn’t much “habitation debris,” it was determined the site was most likely inhabited by only a few people or remained vacant most of the time, only being used for ceremonies or other important occasions.
4. Bynum Mounds and Village Site, 28 miles southwest of Tupelo
Built between 100 BC and 100 AD, this site is made up of six burial mounds, which range in height from five feet to 14’. An excavation in the late 1940s resulted in several finds. In Mound A, the remains of a woman, who had been buried with ornamental copper spools on each wrist, were recovered. Mound B, the site’s largest, was determined to have been a crematory pit, which still included the remains of several individuals. Several “high prestige” artifacts, which were believed to have been transported long distances, were also recovered at the site.
5. Winterville Mounds, Greenville
This prehistoric Native American ceremonial site is believed to have been constructed by a tribe that thrived in the area from about 1000 AD to 1450 AD. The site originally consisted of 23 mounds but has diminished in size over the years due to several mounds being leveled by construction and farming; however, in spite of that fact, it remains one of the largest and best-preserved sites in the southeastern United States. Today, the 42-acre site includes 12 mounds, two large plazas, and a museum, which features artifacts recovered during the 1967–1968 excavation.
6. Nanih Waiya Mound and Village, northeast of Philadelphia
The period of construction of the Nanih Waiya mound remains a mystery to this day. The mound’s rectangular, flat-topped form is typical of mounds from the Mississippian period, but pottery sherds found in the area point toward the Middle Woodland period. Despite the mystery behind the mound, one thing is for certain; the site plays a central role in the Choctaw tribe’s origin legends. One story in particular tells of the mound giving birth to the tribe as they emerged from the underworld.
7. Pocahontas Mound, 9 miles north of Jackson
Built between 1000 AD and 1300 AD, this rectangular mound, which is 175’ across and 22’ in height, was built during the Mississippi period. While examining the site, remains of a mud plastered log-post building were found, indicating a ceremonial temple or chief’s residence once stood atop the mound.
8. Emerald Mound Site, 10 miles northeast of Natchez
Constructed sometime between 1200 AD and 1600 AD, the Emerald Mound is the second-largest ceremonial mound in the United States and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Spanning nearly eight acres, Emerald Mound was formed by depositing earth along the sides of a natural hill, creating a large plateau. Atop the main mound, several smaller mounds were constructed, serving as a “ceremonial complex.” Studies show that the Emerald Mound Site was completely abandoned by the late-1600s AD, as the Natchez tribe had established their capital at Grand Village.
9. Grand Village of the Natchez Tribe, Natchez
This 128-acre site served as the political and religious capital of the Natchez Indian tribe during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Several French colonists were in the area at the time, witnessed the mounds being used at Grand Village, and recorded their observations, offering a unique insight into the tribe.
Excavations were performed at the site in 1962, at which time the remains of Chief Great Sun’s house and a ceremonial temple were found. Both of these structures were written about in reports by the French colonists, noting the significance of the structures. Today, this National Historic Landmark includes three ceremonial mounds, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, and a museum – all of which are free to tour.
Ready to see the mounds? Check out information on the recently opened Mississippi Mound Trail