Heart of Louisiana: LSU's Indian Mounds

Updated: Oct. 4, 2016 at 8:07 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Because these large mounds have always been a part of the landscape on LSU's campus, they may be taken for granted.  A sign tells you that these are Indian mounds. But a few tall tales say otherwise.

"When I first got here in 1993, I was told in no uncertain terms that those mounds were back dirt from the excavation of the Huey Long pool," said Rebecca Saunders.

Saunders is curator of the LSU Museum of Natural Science. Over the last few decades, scientists have studied core samples from the mounds. In the 1980s, the mounds were dated at 5,000 years old.

"Those were some of the first recognized early mounds in the U.S.," Saunders said. "The LSU mounds are a little bit older than some of the earliest pyramids."

But as technology improved, the mounds aged even more. They are now among the oldest-known man-made structures in the United States.

"With all of the voodoo we do with radiocarbon dates these days in terms of calibration, the 5,000-year-old date is now a 6,000-year-old date," Saunders said.

They were not burial mounds, but more likely a gathering place.

"When they are building these mounds is essentially you're saying look, we're here, we were here, we are here and we are going to be here in the future," Saunders said.

There are precious few artifacts from the LSU - only tiny pieces of chipped stone.

"They're hitting the rock so hard that they are producing ripples in the stone and you can see those," Saunders said.

In recent years, the mounds have been fenced off on LSU game days to keep large groups of tailgaters off the fragile structures.

"What's happening here is that huge pieces of the mound are slipping down," Saunders said. "Water is getting inside the mounds and it's collecting on little splits in the dirt so it's creating a very slick surface, and dirt in front of that surface is calving off just like an iceberg might calve off a glacier."

The mounds are now getting more careful attention. For archeologists, it's about saving an ancient piece of history, the remains of a lost culture, with its own traditions that were formed 6,000 years before LSU.

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