Non-invasive tools key to first mapping of early Louisiana culture

November 27, 2002

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Archaeologists have hit pay dirt at Poverty Point, La.

Using a variety of advanced non-intrusive instruments, an Army Corps of Engineers team has for the first time geophysically found and mapped "subsurface architecture and cultural features" that were constructed by the area's early residents, the Poverty Point Culture (about 1730 to 1350 B.C.).

Tad Britt, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said his team produced "very accurate maps" of man-made ridges and trenches just below the surface of the ground. They surveyed ridges 1-5 of the southwest sector of Macon Ridge, above the Mississippi River floodplain.

The maps document the precise arrangement of and spacing between the concentric semicircular ridges and trenches. Ridges range from 65 to 115 feet apart, with the outermost being three-quarters of a mile in diameter -- all "indicative of a carefully designed and well-executed plan," Britt said.

The earthworks may have been used as a marketplace, and three circular anomalies found on the ridges may be post holes for roundhouses, built at different times. "The site was occupied for almost 1,500 years and was continually being modified. What remains is a palimpsest of human occupations."

One of the goals of the project, in addition to collecting data about the hidden features, was to determine which non-invasive instruments worked best at detecting subsurface anomalies "indicative of cultural features," Britt said. Magnetic field gradiometry and electrical resistivity proved most successful. In addition to Britt, the principal investigator, team members were Michael Hargrave and Janet Simms; all three work for the Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center.

Previous non-invasive surveys by other archaeologists were inconclusive. Similarly, traditional excavations at the site over the past 100 years have failed to provide "a clear understanding of the nature, distribution and density of archaeological features such as pits, hearths, post holes and other structural remains," Britt said.

Despite the latest discoveries, the huge, 400-acre site remains "unique and enigmatic" -- much of the current understanding regarding its evolution and its inhabitants' subsistence, lifeways and social order "still speculative and largely based on data recovered from surface finds and limited test excavation."

Nevertheless, Poverty Point is a critical archaeological site in the United States and a textbook case for the evolution of a non-agricultural, socially complex culture.

Elsewhere during the same time period, American Indians lived "a much simpler lifestyle as hunter-gatherers," Britt said. "There are some exceptions, all in Louisiana, that predate Poverty Point by a couple thousand years. But they do not possess the level or scale of the Poverty Point site."

Recent archaeological studies in the area indicate that the earliest mounds in the Americas also are in northeast Louisiana. Those mounds are earlier than the Olmec mounds in Mexico, he said, and even the Egyptian pyramids at Giza.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Archaeologists Articles from Brightsurf:

Archaeologists reveal human resilience in the face of climate change in ancient Turkey
An examination of two documented periods of climate change in the greater Middle East, between approximately 4,500 and 3,000 years ago, reveals local evidence of resilience and even of a flourishing ancient society despite the changes in climate seen in the larger region.

Archaeologists use tooth enamel protein to show sex of human remains
A new method for estimating the biological sex of human remains based on reading protein sequences rather than DNA has been used to study an archaeological site in Northern California.

Archaeologists verify Florida's Mound Key as location of elusive Spanish fort
Florida and Georgia archaeologists have discovered the location of Fort San Antón de Carlos, home of one of the first Jesuit missions in North America.

Archaeologists receive letter from biblical era
Hebrew University team unearths Canaanite temple at Lachish; find gold artifacts, cultic figurines, and oldest known etching of Hebrew letter 'Samech.'

Archaeologists found the burial of Scythian Amazon with a head dress on Don
The burial of the Amazon with a head dress made of precious metal dated back to the second half of the 4th c BC was found by the staff of the Don expedition of IA RAS during the examination of the cemetery Devitsa V of Voronezh Oblast.

Archaeologists find Bronze Age tombs lined with gold
Archaeologists with the University of Cincinnati have discovered two Bronze Age tombs containing a trove of engraved jewelry and artifacts that promise to unlock secrets about life in ancient Greece.

Archaeologists uncover 2,000-year-old street in Jerusalem built by Pontius Pilate
An ancient walkway most likely used by pilgrims as they made their way to worship at the Temple Mount has been uncovered in the 'City of David' in the Jerusalem Walls National Park.

Tiny ear bones help archaeologists piece together the past
For the first time archaeologists have used the small bones found in the ear to look at the health of women and children from 160 years ago.

FEFU archaeologists have found the oldest burials in Ecuador
Archaeologists of the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) found three burials of the ancient inhabitants of South America aged from 6 to 10 thousand years.

Archaeologists found traces of submerged Stone Age settlement in Southeast Finland
The prehistoric settlement submerged under Lake Kuolimojarvi provides us with a clearer picture of the human occupation in South Karelia during the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic Stone Age (about 10,000 - 6,000 years ago) and it opens up a new research path in Finnish archaeology.

Read More: Archaeologists News and Archaeologists Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to