America’s First Metropolis?

This could rate near the top of the Greatest Wonders You’ve Never Heard Of category. Suppose that here in the United States, in Louisiana, there were the remains of a city older than Troy. We’re not talking about a few mud huts around a campfire but a city of several thousand souls built on more than 7 miles of raised structures and adjacent to a mound containing some 27 million cubic feet of packed earth.

That mound, known as “Bird Mound” for the agreed interpretation of its shape as seen from above, once stood some 100 feet tall. It was apparently built in one spectacular three-month effort. A quick calculation suggests this would require a  worker population of 2,000 – 3,000 people that would have to be fed and managed for this period. Even at its remaining 72 feet, it is the second largest mound surviving in the US, next only to the somewhat later Monks Mound in Illinois.

What really makes Poverty Point interesting is that the 7 miles of living structures are laid out in a precise geometrical pattern of 6 concentric semi circular ridges, each roughly 6 feet high. Obviously this indicates a high degree of planning and social organization — people didn’t just say “I’ll build my hut over there, by that stream.”

And every one of the 27 million cubic feet of earth for the Bird Mound was carried to the site manually in hand-woven baskets. To make it even more intriguing, there is no sign of agriculture. This 400 acre site was apparently built by hunter-gatherers. Think about that in terms of surplus calories.

Enormous kudos to the State of Louisiana for maintaining it in superb condition. Poverty Point is a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status.

How to get there: It’s about 15 miles off I-20  between Vicksburg and Monroe, about an hour and a half from the Jackson airport. Directions and other information on their web site.

More ideas for an expedition off the beaten path in my next post.

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