Building Mound A at Poverty Point, Louisiana: Monumental Public Architecture, Ritual Practice, and Implications for Hunter-Gatherer Complexity


  • Scientific editing by Vance Holliday

Corresponding author;



Hunter-gatherer societies are often characterized by limited complexity and social equality. Therefore, the construction of monumental architecture by hunter-gatherers is seen as the manifestation of social and political inequality. The massive size and rapid construction of Mound A at Poverty Point (ca. 3261 cal. yr B.P.) in northeast Louisiana challenges these notions. Geoarchaeological investigations of stratigraphy at the macro- and micro-levels shows there are no erosion events, natural episodes of soil formation, or cultural stages. We infer from these results that Mound A was constructed by a large labor force over a short period of time. There is no evidence, however, that the mound was constructed under the aegis of a ranked socio-political system. We argue instead that the mound was constructed as a ritual feature and that leadership required to mobilize labor and resources was situational and emerged through ritual practice that developed because of the need to integrate a large population.