The Great Pyramids. The Acropolis. The Great Wall of China. There are lots of reminders of the ancient civilizations who once trampled the same dirt we now step on or have paved over. The existence of these structures and artifacts allows us to envision life as it must have been prior to society becoming spoiled by amenities the ancients could not even visualize. A certain awe strikes visitors when they gaze at the glorious Lichtenstein Castle in Germany or the mysterious Mayan ruins in Belize. As badly as many of us relish the thought of jetting off to any one of these destinations, they’re a bit far and very expensive to get to.
Here’s some great news. You can become equally as awestruck without ever leaving the U.S.A. They may not be as world-renowned or as widely publicized, but we too have some worthy ancient ruins. There were already people living here way before America became a nation in 1776 so It should come as no surprise, just as with the ancient Romans and the Aztecs, these inhabitants from yesteryear left a few things behind.
Archeological sites are all over America. Some are large. Some are small. Some are complex. All are very old. Here are a few of them to get you started.
Poverty Point, Louisiana
Poverty Point is over 3000-years-old and is a mysterious site found in northeastern Louisiana. It consumes 900-acres and literally, millions of artifacts have been excavated from its many mounds and earthen concentric rings. It is estimated to have been built over a 600 year period between the years of 1650 and 700 BC and took over 5-million hours of labor to complete. It is also considered nothing less than an engineering marvel. Despite researchers pinning down some dates, nothing beyond this is known. Why it was built, who built it, and why it was abandoned are complete and total mysteries. For these reasons, the ancient inhabitants are strictly referred to as the Poverty Point Culture.
The people of the Poverty Point Culture were spread out between what is now Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. While some of them lived in small groups similar to a small town or village, there were also regional centers such as Poverty Point where many of them resided. Extensive trading networks were established which connected people over several hundred miles of area.
Poverty Point is now a National Park where visitors can view the many artifacts on display as they explore the past culture of a highly sophisticated people. It also has the distinct honor of being a World Heritage Site.
Chaco Canyon – New Mexico
One of the most important pre-Columbian historical areas lies in Chaco Canyon which was once a huge cultural center for the ancient Puebloans. The area encompasses a 9-mile stretch of the canyon floor. Structures were built above and below ground and it’s surprising how enormous some of them were. What they left behind is a standing testament to remarkable organizational and engineering skills not seen elsewhere in Southwest America.
Also known as the Anasazi, a Navajo word meaning “the ancient enemy”, the ancient Puebloans settled in the area around the year 900AD using timber and sand stone blocks hauled from great distances to construct 15 major complexes. Up until as late as the 19th century, these complexes remained the largest buildings in North America. Many of the buildings were positioned to capture both lunar and solar cycles, a feat which would have required generations of astronomical observations.
Climate change is blamed for the area’s abandonment commencing with the 50-year drought which began in the year 1130. Today, campsites are available in what is now a national historic park but visitors are forewarned, there is no shade, and the environment is rugged. Collecting what little wood can be found is forbidden so wood or charcoal must be hauled in for campfires. If you want to camp or RV in the park it’s highly recommended to check out their rules first.
Approximately 75,000 descendants of the ancient Puebloans are still around today but they are spread out between the modern-day tribes of the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna.
Moundville Archeological Site – Alabama
Located on the Black Warrior River in central Alabama, this site was occupied between the years of 1000 AD and 1450 AD. The community stood on a 300-acre bluff overlooking the river and was a religious and cultural center. The site is a collection of 29 mounds and they were constructed by a Native American society known as the Mississippian culture.
Unlike other cultures who gathered and foraged for food, the Mississippian culture implemented agricultural techniques to assure their sustainability. This caused the creation of permanent settlements complete with elite government and religious rulers who supervised the construction of additional mounds as the population grew.
By around 1500 AD the site was largely abandoned. At the beginning of the 20th century the area began being excavated but to this day archeologists and historians are still puzzled by both the rise and the fall of this once populous area. The only known fact is that the descendants are now scattered across Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Guided and self-guided tours of the area are available. Various tools and weapons are on display and visitors can even watch them being made in the same fashion they would have been way back when. Kids can have their faces painted to resemble how the ancient tribesman would have looked, and they will be able to make their own shell necklaces. Other displays show how the original inhabitants dressed and what they must have looked like.
Many visitors are surprised to see how the game of Lacrosse evolved or why the ancients referred to stickball as “the little brother of war”. Other demonstrations are put on at various times, such as how to make a Native American wooden flute, and there is a summer camp program for the kiddos.
So forget about purchasing plane tickets and instead, gas up your car. These and many other sites across our nation are sure to appease the history and archaelogy buff in anyone.