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Flat-Topped Mound Bases for Temples in the Mississippi River Area, End of First Period

More than a thousand years ago, a distinct North American culture flourished on the banks of the Mississippi River. This culture was named after the great river which became the lifeline of the people who lived near its banks. It was also the hallmark of the Mississippian culture where the massive earth monuments or mounds were left behind. The mysterious decline of the Mississippian Culture and their abandonment of the flat-topped mound bases for temples appeared on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History in AD 1190.

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Mississippian Culture’s Flat-Topped Mounds

The ancient Mississippians built mounds of different sizes and shapes. Some of the most striking and intriguing were the flat-topped platform mounds. These massive earthworks were usually quadrilateral and circular in shape and were made up of rocks, log mantles, clay, and soil. The largest of these is the Monk’s Mound at Cahokia which covered an area of about six hectares (around 15 acres) at the base and reached a height of up to 30 meters (around 98 feet). Most were built around AD 800 and beyond until the Mississippian culture faded around the twelfth century.

“Monks Mound”

Flat-topped mounds primarily served as bases for temples and mortuary shrines. They were also used as platforms for tribal council meetings and as ceremonial stages. In rare instances, the mounds were used as bases for houses of tribal and religious leaders. The mounds were enlarged over the years as tribal chieftains died and were replaced by another. The areas around the flat-topped platform mounds were restricted to the general population and protected by defensive walls or palisades.


The end of the construction of these flat-topped mounds came around the twelfth century when the Mississippian Culture underwent a rapid decline. It is possible that over-hunting and deforestation which were worsened by climate change and erosion played a part in the disappearance of the native Mississippians. The invasion of other tribes and the onset of diseases were also possible causes for the collapse of the Mississippian culture. Whatever the reason, the Mississippian flat-topped mounds were largely abandoned when the Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century.

Picture By Skubasteve834EN.Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
“An Introduction to North America’s Native People: Mississippian Period.” NATIVE PEOPLES of NORTH AMERICA. Accessed October 25, 2016.
Murphree, Daniel S. Native America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2012.
Young, Biloine W., and Melvin L. Fowler. Cahokia, The Great Native American Metropolis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
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