Artist's impression of the Poverty Point site as it must have looked like when it was erected by America's first civilization. Credit: Herb Roe (CC BY-SA)

First Ancient American Civilization Were Skilled Engineers—10 Things You Need to Know

Based on the latest studies, one can make an assumption about a much more complex social organization of the first inhabitants of America than previously thought.

The indigenous people of the New World who inhabited the Poverty Point region of northeastern Louisiana more than three thousand years ago were previously considered to be hunter-gatherers. But a study by scientists from the Universities of Washington and Colorado (USA) showed that their community, apparently, was more complex.


Everything you need to know about America’s first civilization

The Poverty Point archaeological site

The Poverty Point Archaeological Site is an ancient earthen structure and mounds built by local people between 1700 and 1000 BC, during the late archaic period of North American history.

Not so primitive

Scientists believe that this is the oldest civilization in the region but until recently, it was believed that these ancient people were primitive. This was evidenced by the jewelry and tools that were discovered in the past. Yet, the structures that this civilization left behind were found to be extremely intricate and difficult to build even with the technologies of 21st-century architecture.

This illustration showes the features of the Poverty Point archaeological site. You can see the mounds that were studied in the past and you can see the six ridges that were discovered and studied recently. Credit: T.R. Kidder
This illustration shows the features of the Poverty Point archaeological site. You can see the mounds that were studied in the past and you can see the six ridges that were discovered and studied recently. Credit: T.R. Kidder

Purpose of the structures

Their exact purpose is unknown: it was probably something like a trading platform or a ritual complex. Scientists theorize that the location might have served as a religious center that was visited by pilgrims from different places on the continent.

Construction methods

The construction took more than one and a half million cubic meters of land. These structures were erected without modern tools, equipment, and even wheeled vehicles or draft animals. At this time in history, in America, local people had no horses or domesticated cattle. How they did it remains a mystery.

Three thousand years old

And the most amazing thing is that the earthen structures have existed for more than three thousand years without additional fortifications. Moreover, modern bridges or dams built using the latest technologies are destroyed much faster.

Suddenly abandoned

Poverty Point, like many other similar monuments of antiquity, was suddenly abandoned in its time. This happened about two thousand years ago – probably due to floods in the Mississippi Valley and climate change.

A photograph from the excavations before scientists took samples. See how the color changes with each layer showing how the ancient inhabitants of America used different soil for the construction of their structures. Credit: T.R. Kidder

Dating methods

Using modern dating methods, including radiocarbon dating, microscopic soil analysis, and others, scientists have obtained evidence that the embankments were created in a short time. No traces of weathering were found between the levels.

Scale

This means that for construction of this scale, a serious personnel reserve was needed, which was not only well organized but also had a certain qualification. Even more impressive is the fact that the structures are still intact, although due to the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, a large amount of precipitation falls in these parts, eroding such embankments.

Different types of soil

As shown by microscopic analysis of the soil, the builders mixed different types – clay, silt, and sand – in the right proportions to achieve the special strength of the structure. Thus, the Native Americans discovered the recipe for “concrete” from the soil, which, according to the researchers, were not capable of simple hunter-gatherers.

More complex than previously thought

Based on this, one can make an assumption about a more complex social organization of America’s first civilization.


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Sources:

Florida News Times. (2021, September 2). New evidence supports the idea that America’s first civilization was made up of “SOPHISTICATED” ENGINEERS.
Kidder, T. R. (n.d.). Multi-method GEOARCHAEOLOGICAL analyses DEMONSTRATES exceptionally rapid construction of ridge WEST 3 at poverty point. Taylor & Francis.
Phys.org. (2021, September 2). New evidence supports idea that America’s first civilization was made up of ‘SOPHISTICATED’ ENGINEERS.
Savat, S. (2021, September 1). New evidence supports idea that America’s first civilization was made up of ‘sophisticated’ engineers: The Source: Washington University in St. Louis. The Source.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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