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[sacredlandscapelist] louisiana mounds

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  • Barry Carroll
    The trip to Louisiana was good. Since last fall i have been exchanging letters and phone calls with Joe Saunders, an archaeologist at North Louisaiana State
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 1999
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      The trip to Louisiana was good.

      Since last fall i have been exchanging letters and phone calls with Joe
      Saunders, an archaeologist at North Louisaiana State University. He has
      been working on the Watson Brake mound site near there. He told me if i
      could be in Monroe the morning of the 20th, he could take me out there.
      I got a late start on the 19th and arrived at Poverty Point Commemorativen
      Area 30 miles NE of Monroe around 5:30pm. The museum was closed but the
      grounds were open. It's a public park. The county road runs right through
      it. It was so big it took a moment to orient myself. The site is over 400
      acres. The plaza of the site is a half mile across. It's an ancient planned
      community. The layout is like this: in a grassy field there are 6
      concentric raised semi-circles facing the river channel [formerly a part of
      the Mississippi] which were occupied by circular houses. The park marks
      the semi-circles by cutting the grass taller so they stand out. At the apex
      of the the whole deal, rising out of the woods, is a huge mound 70 feet
      high in the shape of a bird with outstrecthed wings. Beyond that is a
      shallow moat. The semi-circles are divided by three avenues oriented to the
      winter solstice and dates close to equinox and summer solstice. Late day
      light was golden. A few pickup trucks passed but there was no one else
      anywhere. I climbed the big mound and listened the the shreiks of large
      unfamiliar marshbirds and walked to markers placed around the grounds til
      dark fell.



      Next day at Dr Saunders lab I met Reca Jones now in her 60's who discovered
      Watson Brake after it was partly cleared by logging back in the early 70's
      She introduced me to two research assistants who were sorting material
      recovered from sample pits and showed me what they were finding. Then I
      followed Dr Saunders out to the site. Watson Brake is the oldest man-made
      structure in the western hemisphere, carbon-dated to circa 3400 BC. It's
      2000 years older than Poverty Point. It consists of a wide 'C'-shaped
      platform affair 20 to 40 feet wide with mounds spaced around it at
      intervals. The open part of the 'C' is closed with three more mounds. I t
      overlooks a river that was once much bigger. Debris distribution indicates
      the inhabitants worked and camped on the raised "C" and its mounds. No post
      holes for shelters have been found. Amazingly samplings of the the center
      plaza indicate that it is conspicuously free of the debris of any kind of
      human activity. This suggests that perhaps this area was kept ceremonially
      clean as sacred or ritual space. Illustrators who have drawn the site
      always show the setting bare of vegetation. Dr Saunders believes the site
      looked different during its occupation. In his view, tall hickory trees
      grew on the ring as well as trellised miscadine grapevines which still grow
      wild on the site. These provided food and shade. The occupants of Watson
      Brake were pre-ceramic. They did not cook in pots. They heated liquids in
      water tight baskets by placing a sucession of hot stones or fired clay
      objects in the liquid til it was hot. A distinctive feature of the site at
      Watson Brake is they liked to make these immersion objects in the shape of
      cubes. Poverty Point occupants continued to cook this way two millenia
      later and had their own characteristic immersion objects.

      We were done by noon, Saunders said that Marksville [ 400-1000AD] was
      close enough to see and worth a two hour detour. I drove from Monroe to
      Alexandria along a beautiful 4-lane following the Quachita [sounds like
      wash-a-taw] river though tall pines, then 30 minutes east to Marksville.
      The Tunica indians have a big casino in Marksville and a tribal
      interpretive museum next door . The building is earth covered and built to
      look like a mound with a hut on top. It is ringed by a moat and gator
      statues guard the entrances.
      The mound site is in the nearby State Commorative Area. It has its own
      museum. The site is nice but lacks the imaginative groundskeeping of
      poverty point. Overall the park has a distinctly underfunded appearance.
      Altho parts of the the site are very early it is now thought to have been
      reoccupied and expanded.Marksville is thought to have been under their
      influence of Ohio Hopewell for a time . Several of the displays address
      this subject. By now people made pottery and the pottery found at
      Marksville is very nice. It is apparently similar to Hopewell pottery in
      form and motifs. The characteristic figure on pots from Marksville shows
      the repeating image of a fantastic creature in raised relief, a combination
      longbeaked bird with curvy serpents body. Other ancient pottery of
      Arkansas, North Louisiana and Mississippi, is also very nice and desirable
      among regional collectors. Pot hunting, or freestyle grave robbing,
      depending on your viewpoint, is an old regional pasttime. There are no
      large pottery collections in any regional museums, all such collections are
      in private hand

      The exhibits at Marksville's museum were originally done in the 50's and
      have been recently freshened. They still preserve the antique charm of the
      older graphic-arts style . The B&W photos of the site as part of a farm
      in the 1920's and of excavation projects in the 30's are also wonderful.
      Because of the Hopewell connection there are also other old photos of
      important sites in Ohio, at Newark and Chilicothe.

      The most memorable meal on the trip was at Leesville, La on the way back.
      At a crossroads where one road heads for Texas and the other goes to Lake
      Charles, was an establishment called Jacks Place. It was gas station and
      nice diner. They served several fresh-made items. I ordered a half catfish
      sandwich to go for $3.50, the cheapest thing on the menu. These turned out
      to be fresh, not frozen, fillets. The young lady hand breaded several
      orders and deep fried them. Next she prepared my frenchbread loaf with a
      spicy sauce and placed a very large piece of fried fish on it. It was
      almost a foot long! I told her I only ordered the HALF catfish sandwich.
      She looked at me and said, "This is half a catfish." Wow! B.


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