Bronze Age Town & Gulf Ports on the Copper Trail
Open-fire manufacturing of Copper Oxhides
(Epps, NE Louisiana, c.2000-700 BC)
by J .S. Wakefield
The “Late Archaic” Poverty Point earthworks in Louisiana are the earliest and largest monuments in prehistoric North America. The site that remains covers a square mile, features six concentric segmented semi-circular walls, surrounded by six large mounds. The site is shown to be a prehistoric town, and a manufacturing and trading center which was a part of the worldwide megalithic culture. The site design reveals encoded latitudes of transatlantic sailing routes, and evidence of multicultural involvement in the manufacturing of copper oxhide ingots.
Introduction & Dating
The Poverty Point complex is a Louisiana State Commemorative Area, open to the public, and has been a National Historical Landmark since 1962. Collectors have been picking up artifacts since the 1870s, but it was not recognized as such a huge site until the ring pattern was recognized in a 1938 aerial photograph (Fig.2. right). The American Museum of Natural History dug at the site in 1942/3 and 1955, and showed “how large and unusual [the site] was” (Ref.1). Today, there is a road built through the rings, and 15,000 visitors a year pass through the site’s museum. Some of the illustrations used in this article are from the book (The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point, Place of the Rings) and website of John L. Gibson, previously employed as the site archaeologist, who devoted his career to the study of Poverty Point.
The site is located in the north-eastern corner of Louisiana, northwest of Vicksburg, Mississippi at 33°N (Fig.1). Poverty Point is built on Macon Ridge, a plateau 90 miles long, and five miles wide, in the swampy floodplains of the Mississippi River. Gibson reports 38 radiocarbon dates, all between 2278 BC (2470-2040) and 650 BC, with most between 1500 and 1300 BC. Gibson says that while the land and waters were biologically rich, the richest asset was the location. “This was one of the few places in the entire Mississippi valley Where a departing pirogue could have been paddled without portages” (Refs.1,2).
The River and the Bayou
The huge ring complex is on a bluff above the west bank of Bayou Macon. Other abandoned river channels and the route of the Bayou Macon indicate an active branch of the Mississippi flowed against the site in the past. Gibson’s reconstruction drawing of the site (Fig.3) shows the steepness of the “precipitous bluff’ on the east side of the site. The water of the bayou below is still, with fall maple leaves floating on the surface. This is the Bayou Macon, which originates near another isolated oxbow bend of the Mississippi in Arkansas, now called Chicot Lake. This valley bottom of the Mississippi today contains many “bayous.” which once were….continued on Page 2