Poverty Point is one of the oldest large historical sites in the United States and is a prehistoric earthwork in present-day northeastern Louisiana. It is a site of acute archeological interest to understand life in America in the distant past - long before the native cultures that Europeans encountered 500 years ago. Today Poverty Point is both a US National Monument and a US National Historic Landmark, in addition, is it also UNESCO Listed. The ruins are all today part of the Poverty Point State Historic Site and are the largest and most complex Late Archaic site of its kind known in the continent. Another of America's great sites is Cahokia.


History Of Poverty Point

Poverty Point dates to around 1700 to 1100 BC long before the Greek, Roman, Persian, Neo-Babylonian Empires. Possibly older than the historical Troy responsible for The Legend of Troy and the Iliad (which you can see today in Turkey). Poverty Point is made up of earthen ridges and mounds in the Late Archaic period in North America.

A lot is still to be understood about this site. Experts in the field debate as to whether it was a trading center, a settlement, or a served as a sort of ceremonial religious complex. These explanations are also not mutually exclusive.

The site is composed of some six C-shaped concentric ridges with each ring separated by a gulley. The ridges are all half circles. While the ridges range from 0.3 feet to 6 feet, they would have been much higher in the past as they have worn down over the many years. Much of the geometric design is hard to make out today on the ground, the scale and geometric design of the site only became apparent after aerial photographs were taken.

  • Fun Fact: Poverty Point Is One Of Only 3 US Archaeological Sites With UNESCO Listing

Within the innermost of the concentric ridges is a plaza. This plaza measures some 37.5 acres.

Construction of sites across the Americas was done without the tools of the Old World of Europe and Asia. In Europe, Asia, and North Africa they had written language, iron and bronze tools, horses, and oxen. But in the ancient American Indians would have had to construct everything by hand. They had no metal tools, just tools made of wood, bone, and stone. Transporting the earth would have had to have been done with baskets physically carried by people (no wheel necessitates no wheelbarrow).  All in all an estimated 2 million cubic yards of soil was moved at this site. The largest mound at this site measures some 72 feet tall - and that's after Millenium of erosion.

It is believed that these mounds towered over any other earthen monument for 2,200 years.

There is so much work yet to be done at this site. We have questions, but all too frequently we don't have answers. Answers to questions like, Why did they build these mounds and ridges? Why was the site abandoned around 1100 BC?

So far millions of artifacts have been discovered at the site and with each. We get a little closer to forming a picture of how what, and why. Although sometimes discoveries can just baffle our understanding and require us to rework our governing theories.

  • Artifacts Discovered: Human Figurines, Domestic Tools, Stones From 800 Miles Away

Interestingly, there seems to have been an epilogue. At around AD 700 what must have been another native group built another mound. That is nearly 1,800 years after it was abandoned (the Roman Empire only fell some 1550 years ago by contrast). This later settlement seems to have only occupied a small fraction of the site and this group didn't last long.

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Related: The Lost City Of Cahokia: 10 Theories About What Took Place There

The Inhabitants

It is fun to try to recreate the lives of the people who lived at Poverty Point over 3,000 years ago. But we are a little hand-tied as unlike the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans they left no written records. We still don't know if this was the site of hundreds or thousands of people.

Sometimes what is lacking is just as important as what is present. And one notable absence from the site is any evidence of domesticated plant remains. Perhaps they were mostly reliant on foraging. There are nuts, persimmons, and grapes at the site but these are wild. Of course, the Lower Mississippi Valley is one of the most fertile regions in all of the continent, so farming may not have been necessary.

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The rocks and minerals at the site - some from 800 miles away tell us they were also trading. Seventy-eight tons of rocks and other material were brought to this site.

Judging by where they built their homes, the people depended on the river. We also know their diet was mostly fish, frogs, turtles, alligators, deer, aquatic tubers, hickory nuts, and other forged food. Fish are the most common.

Related: 20 Sites Just Added To UNESCO’s World Heritage List

The earthworks were built over around 600 years - or around 25 generations.

Visiting The Site

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  • Opening Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m Every Day
  • Days Closed: Thanksgiving, Xmas & New Year's Day
  • Tours: Guided Tours Are Available
  • Hiking: 2.6 Mile Hiking Trail
  • Admission Fee: $4 Per Person (Free For Seniors And Babies)
  • Location: 6859 La. Hwy. 577, Pioneer, La. 71266

If you are interested in America's pre-European history, then Poverty Point is one of the most significant sites known to date.

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Next: A Lot Of World Heritage Sites In The US Are Actually Worth Visiting, Others Not So Much