NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Sometimes they appear as a distant rise in the Earth, jutting about the flat Louisiana farmland. There are dozen of these mounds scattered across the state -- some built more than a thousand years ago.
The town of Jonesville in Northeast Louisiana sits on top of the site of an ancient Native American City known as Troyville. Its mounds were built 1,500 years ago.
The Great Mound was once over 80 feet tall -- as high as the crossbeam on the town’s water tower. It was partially destroyed during the Civil War, and then the dirt was used for a bridge embankment.
Local historian Bill Atkins can point out what’s left of mounds.
“Of course, the first base was 30 feet high,” Atkins said.
One sits under a Catholic church. A cemetery next to a Methodist church sits atop another. And, at the edge of town, a mound overlooks the point where the Ouchita River, the Tensas, Little and Black rivers intersect.
“It’s where four rivers come together, which was their highway. Their super highway at the time.” Atkins said.
To promote its historical past, the town has reconstructed a half-sized replica of the ancient mounds.
While the purpose of some of the mounds remain a mystery, the one in the center of Marksville, Louisiana was a burial mound.
Don Fontenot, a state park ranger, said the area holds a unique historical significance.
“Between 40 and 50 bodies were found, or partial remains, and some artifacts,” Fontenot said. “We know this was a place of respect for the people that lived here.”
The burials in this 30-foot-high mound began at the same time that Christ was born a half-world away, 2,000 years ago.
According to archaeologist Chip McGimsey, most of the mounds were strategically placed in nature.
“A lot of these sites that we think of as really being ceremonial sites, particularly at that time period, between zero and 400 A.D. often have embankments that are open to the East, so they’re typically on the bluff or a piece of high ground overlooking a stream,” McGimsey said.
Other mounds align perfectly with the summer and winter solstice.
“I just cannot accept that that’s coincidence,” McGimsey said.
The oldest known mound in the state sits in the middle of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus. As technology has improved, experts have learned the mounds are older than originally thought, according to anthropology professor and curator Rebecca Saunders.
Louisiana’s are among the oldest known man-made structures in North America.
“With all of the voodoo we do with radiocarbon dates these days, in terms of calibration, the 5,000-year-old date has now, is now a 6,000-year-date," Saunders said.
The most impressive mound in the state -- and now a world heritage site -- is located in extreme Northeastern Louisiana at Poverty Point.
Archeologist Diana Greenlee said the site is like no other.
“It’s this monumental earthworks site that was built about 3,400 years ago by people who were hunters and gatherers,” Greenlee said. “It’s got this complex of mounds and ridges that is just not seen anywhere else.”
It’s an amazing history that you can see across much of the state -- ancient cities that were thriving thousands of years ago. The State Department of Archaeology has prepared a driving tour guide to some of the sites. For more information, visit their website: Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana trail.