As we discussed in class, the Mississippian culture dedicated a large majority of their time and energy to building mounds all across North America, ranging in size and shape from small, conical burial mounds, to massive flat top mounds such as Monks Mound at Cahokia rising 10 stories above the ground. Each mound tells its own story of what it was meant for, whether they were to honor the dead, filled with their possessions, or central meeting places within communities. We did not discuss much in class, however, how these mounds were actually constructed.
Unlike some other ancient cultures that created inventions such as pulleys, carts, or harnessed the power of animal labor to build their great architectural creations, the Mississippians used much more basic forms of construction and labor. It was all done with man power. Using baskets carried on workers’ backs, materials such as topsoil or clay were carried – sometimes across very far distances – to the mound building sites. In today’s society, that amount of manual labor is not usually taken on by many humans without some form of help or accommodation to make the task easier. These people, possibly hundreds of workers over the extent of the mound building process, willingly took on a massive, labor intensive task to benefit their community, relatives, or spiritual beliefs.
The organization of the mound building process must have been very sophisticated for these people, who for centuries were viewed as “primitive” and incapable of such a feat. The great earthworks such as the Serpent Mound in Ohio show that not only were these people capable of doing the work, they also had intensive planning skills and artistic insight to create something that cannot be seen as a whole from the ground level. The Mississippians’ motivation behind their mound building work was clearly a goal to benefit their population and community as a whole, representing religious ideas and symbols to honor their deities and bring the people together at community centers like Cahokia. The social complexity and hierarchy among the Mississippian people shows that the culture willingly followed leadership of individuals and worked together to form a society that benefitted all. Investing the time and man-power to these great works was part of Mississippian daily life, and was wholly embraced by the members of this culture. The construction of mounds is widespread proof that these were knowledgable, advanced, and organized people that worked together to construct countless monuments to their culture.