The Mound Builders

By: Edward May III, Historian
(231) 582-2799

Edward May III, Historian

The Mound Builders is a term used to describe First Nation’s cultures that built earthen burial mounds and other earthworks across a large area of North America that extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to the Appalachian Mountains. The Mound culture emerged at about 3000 BC and disappeared around 1200 AD.[private]

The term ‘mound builders’ encompasses several cultures that spanned about 4000 years.

The earliest mounds were built approximately 4000 years ago at a place now known as Monroe, Louisiana.

The Archaic culture migrated into the Woodlands culture but the mound builders traditions continued with the evolution of the Adena Mound Building culture.

The magnificent Hopewell mound builders emerged next.

The prehistoric mounds had many forms and seem to have satisfied a range of functions.

Large, mainly dome-shaped, mounds appeared in the form of animal effigies.

Many served as burial mounds, sometimes for individuals and sometimes to hold the remains of a number of people. Others were temple mounds earthwork platforms supposedly used for religious ceremonies.

Eastern Woodland Indians is a term describing a polyglot of tribal societies that once inhabited an area in North America that extended from the northern tree line and the headwaters of the McKenzie River, through the vast hardwood forests surrounding the Great Lakes and the shores of the Mississippi River, south to the Gulf of Mexico and east through the Carolina forests to the Atlantic seaboard.

At the time Europeans reached the shores of North America the Ojibwa Indians were the largest tribe on the continent. They referred to themselves as Anishnabe – a word that means ”The People.”

There were many similarities between the Eastern Woodland Indians who lived south of the Great Lakes and their cousins who lived in the rocky forests.

Although the Eastern Woodlands Indians culture reached as far north as the headwaters of the McKenzie River in what is now Canada, it thrived particularly well in the forests and fertile soil along the Ohio River and south along the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

In compiling the series of events which lead up to the present days Charlevoix County, we find-interesting- and thrilling stories of the happenings of by-gone years.

Before we can get a clear picture of the development of our own Charlevoix County, let us go back to the early history of our State and Nation. In the Charlevoix Region there is the charm of historic association resting upon all of its area. Here the Mound-builders left their traces, and its surface has been scarred by Indian wars of the remote past.

There is indubitable evidence that the mound-builders wrought the copper mines of Lake Superior that the work was carried on by a large body of men through a period of hundreds or years but the evidence that they established permanent settlements there is lacking. The most reasonable theory is that the laborers spent the summer in the mines, but retired for the winter to a more congenial climate.

It is evident that they had populous settlements in some of the more fertile districts of the southern part of the State. Farther north their remains are found less frequently, and are of a less imposing character.

The evidence seems conclusive that the Mound-builders, the most ancient inhabitants of the territory of the United States of whom we have any knowledge, had extended their scattered frontier settlements into the Charlevoix Region. Here, perhaps, mining expeditions from the more populous south called to make their final preparations for the northern summer trip, and here some of the returning miners were accustomed to spend the winter.

Remembering that historically most people settled near the many waterways, lakes and river mouths. This was due to water being the easier mode of travel and transporting materials. Roads and trains were not available.

Remnants of copper or metal tools and weapons have been excavated below the time line level where we have found an abundance of knapping and shards of the stone or flint they used.

Ancient pottery attributed to the Mound-builder nave been found within the City limits of Boyne City, as well as sparingly in other places within the county.

At Charlevoix, in excavating a cellar, an ancient grave was opened, in which was found a great number of beautifully finished flint arrow-heads, and a quantity of copper beads. In the same locality, some boys, amusing themselves by running up and down the bank of Old River, discovered a piece of copper protruding from the gravelly bank. An examination resulted in the finding of two knives and two bodkins, or piercing instruments, all of copper.

What religion Mound Builders had or practiced is unknown to us today.

Did their practices blend into the Anishnabe fore-fathers or is the Indian religion not connected? We may never know, but as history has a tendency to unravel with today’s technology possibly this will come to light![/private]

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