Poverty Point National Monument | THE PLAZA

The level, 42-acre Plaza of Poverty Point National Monument archaeological site

The level, 42-acre Plaza of Poverty Point National Monument

DRIVING TOUR STOP 1

The Plaza

The first point of interest on the driving tour of Poverty Point National Monument is the Plaza. Between 1650 BC and 1100 BC, the people who lived at Poverty Point built massive earthen structures by digging dirt from one area and piling it high in another, one basketful at a time. They built mounds (large, artificial hills) and ridges (level, elevated platforms). To picture the ridges, just imagine a semicircular theater with six rows of seats divided into sections by four isles. And just as there would be a stage in front of the theater seats, there is a level, 43-acre plaza in front of the ridges. Archaeologists believe the Plaza served as a common area for community events, ceremonies, commerce, and games. The Plaza did not begin as a flat area. Depressions up to three feet deep had to be filled in with dirt to make the area level.

When built, the ridges ranged from 1 to 6 feet in height and were roughly 50 feet wide with 90 feet of open space between them. Based on artifacts found on the ridges during archaeological excavations—cooking pits, hearths, middens, spear points, fragments of stone vessels, tools, and earth-fired cooking balls called Poverty Point Objects—it is evident that houses were built on them. They were certainly wide enough for a small house—my townhome could fit on one—and there was enough square footage to built 600 houses spaced 50 feet apart. If all the ridges were laid out end to end, they would stretch for six miles.

Poverty Point Objects were heated, earthen balls used to bake meals

Poverty Point Objects were heated, earthen balls used to bake meals

Due to erosion and subsequent human settlement, most of the ridges are so worn down that they aren’t even noticeable unless pointed out, particularly those in the open fields surrounding the Plaza. They are a little more distinguishable in the forested sections of Poverty Point, for the trees helped stem erosion and modern settlers never farmed the wooded areas. To illustrate just how insignificant they are in appearance, it wasn’t until 1953 when archaeologist James Ford studied an aerial photograph of the area that the ridges were even recognized.

To make the ridges on the open fields more distinct for visitors to Poverty Point National Monument, the grass is allowed to grow taller on them, whereas it is cut short between the ridges. For the record, I stepped onto the grass and felt no noticeable step up, rise, or anything else resembling an elevated piece of earth, so my guess is that if the grass was mowed there wouldn’t be a thing underneath, at least on the south end of the park.

From the tour road, the ridges are identified with signage. The innermost ridge is called Ridge 1 and the outermost is Ridge 6. On the way to Tour Stop 2, you will drive past all six ridges.

Ridge 1 on the southern end of Poverty Point National Monument

Ridge 1 on the southern end of Poverty Point National Monument

Ridges on the south end of Poverty Point National Monument

Ridges on the south end of Poverty Point National Monument

From your car you can see a series of white PVC posts on the Plaza that are arranged in a circle. These mark the locations of post holes dug by the Indians. The posts were as wide as 2.1 feet in diameter and were sunk as deep as 9 feet into the ground. To this day, archaeologists do not know what they were used for. The holes were discovered when the ground was being mapped with a magnetic gradiometer. No rotted wood was found in the holes, thus the wooden posts were removed when no longer needed.

Numerous post-hole circles and arches were found in the Plaza area. However, these did not exist all at the same time. Radiocarbon dating shows that the holes were dug between 1630 BC and 1100 BC. Posts were removed and new holes were dug over the years to form new configurations. The PVC pipes seen today mark just a small sample of the post holes.

PVC pipes mark the location of ancient post holes at Poverty Point National Monument

PVC pipes mark the location of ancient post holes at Poverty Point National Monument

By the way, the name Poverty Point is taken from the name of the farm, Poverty Point Plantation, that was established on the site in the mid-1800s.


Stop 2: Mound E | Driving Tour Main Page


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Last updated on November 9, 2022
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