Stateside Road Trip travel blog

Mighty Miss

Middle Woodland era mound in Tennessee

View from the mound

My original plan was to spend a few days in Mississippi and Alabama, of all places, looking at ancient mound sites. I took an interest in this little-known epoch of east central North America a month or two before leaving home.

It seems that the area roughly from the grasslands to the Atlantic Ocean was settled and landscaped thousands of years before Europeans showed up. The early people (Paleo, Adena, Hopewell, Woodland, Mississippian) built cities and temples rivaling those of the Aztecs, Moche, or even Inca. The difference was that North American structures were made from dirt, sand, and clay. Those in Central and South America in stone. Guess which ones got ploughed under?

Hurricane Michael changed my plans. I'm avoiding the storm impact area by doing an end around. Happily, I found some mound sites in Tennessee and Arkansas that were impressive to see and fun to explore.

Even more happily, the places I want to see in Florida were not harmed: Miami, where my brother John lives; St Petersburg, where my friend lives; and Orlando, where my Sounders are to play on October 17. John and I have tickets!

The mounds are a little haunting. I sense ghosts everywhere, the memory of the people who built them vague but real. They used some mounds as calendars to mark sacred occasions like solstice. Others were burial sites for the powerful, some accompanied with human sacrifice. The similarity to the stone circles and alignments in Europe that I love so much is undeniable.

It amazes me to think that nearly 1/3 of our continent was essentially farmed and ranched before 1492. I'm thankful for a chance to get a glimpse of that civilization.

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