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The most famous ancient mound site in the United States is Cahokia, but Cahokia is far from the only pre-historic mound site in the country. The Emerald Mound site in Mississippi is the second largest in the country. The mounds were used for temples, ceremonial structures, and burials. They may have been the location for ceremonial dances and solemn religious rituals.

The Emerald Mound site belongs to the Plaquemine culture of the Mississippian period. It is one of the most historical attractions on the Natchez Trace Parkway and is located near Stanton in Mississippi. Today it is one of the key places one should visit while exploring the Natchez National Trail.


Size And Construction Of The Emerald Mound

The Emerald Mound is believed to date from between 1200 AD and 1730 AD. Emerald Mound was built around a natural hill. It rises to a height of 35 feet. There are also two secondary mounds on top of the primary mound; these bring the total height to around 60 feet.

  • Second-Largest: Mississippian Period Ceremonial Mound In the USA
  • Largest: Monk's Mound Near Cahokia

Size of The Emerald Mound:

  • Area: 8 Acres
  • Height: 35 Feet
  • Dimensions: 770 Feet x 435 Feet At its Base

According to the NPS, the mounds were flat-topped and were built by a culture called the Mississippians (a name that comes from the concentration of their villages and mounds along the Mississippi River Valley).

Today it is difficult to picture in one's mind's eye what the mounds would have looked like in their heyday. Just imagine groups of people walking with baskets full of soil to build up the mound one basket at a time. They may have used digging sticks to loosen up the soil, then carried it over, emptied the basket, and stomped the soil down. These would have been repeated time and time again until the mound grew to 35 feet.

Everything was down by hand and would have been an incredibly laborious task that would likely have taken years to complete. Today many mysteries still shroud the construction of the mounds.

The Mississippians were farmers who farmed squash, beans, and corn - these staples supported large populations. Their diet was supplemented by wild game, berries, fish, and other forged food.

Related: Why Cahokia Was Abandoned & More We Don't Know

The Mounds At European Arrival And Abandonment

When the first Europeans explored the region, the mounds were still in use. Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who planned an important role in the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. But he is best known for leading the first European expedition deep into what is today the United States. His expedition took him through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and probably Arkansas.

  • Hernando De Soto: First European To See The Mounds
  • Date: 1540s

His expedition was a massive undertaking and one motivated by the search for gold (and for a passage to China). He died on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1542. At this time, the American Indians that made up the Mississippian culture were still numerous and powerful.

  • Abandonment: By The Late 1600s

Even as late as the French arrived in around 1700, the Natchez people were still practicing their traditional Mississippian way of life. But the mounds had been abandoned by the late 1600s.

The National Park Service states that the mounds fell out of use as the native populations imploded with the introduction of diseases, the intrusion of Europeans, and internal strife brought on by these massive disruptions. The Mississippian culture did not disappear, but rather it adapted, and today, they are the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw of Oklahoma, the Mississippian Band of the Choctaw, and other tribes.

Related: What Is A Ziggurat, And Where Can You Visit One In Real Life?

Visiting The Emerald Mound Today

The Emerald Mound is open every day from dawn to dusk. There is a trail taking visitors to the top of the mound.

  • Open: Sunrise to Sunset Daily
  • Note: Respect The Site As It Is Considered Sacred To Native Americans
  • Admission: Free

The site has continued to degenerate over the years. In the 19th century, people noted a number of adjoining mounds as well as an encircling ditch. But these have since disappeared. Six other mounds of the site have disappeared due to repeated plowing over the surface, and they are no longer visible today.

Today the Emerald Mound is managed by the Park Service and is open to the public.

  • Listed: As A National Historic Landmark in 1989

The mounds are located around 10 miles northeast of Natchez in Mississippi.