Mounds give clues to history of Woodland Indians 8/13/2013

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mounds give clues to history of Woodland Indians

By John Howell Sr.
Who were the people from pre-history who lived so near to us yet so long ago?

Archaeologists classify inhabitants of the Batesville Mounds near Highway 35 North as Indians of the Middle Woodlands period. More specifically, archeologist Mimi Holland in her 1992 report of a study conducted by the Center for Archeological Research at the University of Mississippi for the Panola County Industrial Development Authority, placed the likely period of occupation at the site from 500 B.C to 300 A.D.

To put that into perspective, Cyrus issued the degree to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. Rome became a republic in 509 B.C.

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And they stayed there — between what is now Highway 35 North about where Wells Funeral Home is located and the Tallahatchie River — for up to eight centuries. Less than five centuries have elapsed since Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto became the first European to meander through north Mississippi, thoroughly alienating Woodlands’ descendants all along his route.
Archeologists distinguish the Indians of the Woodlands period from their predecessors because they made pottery, planted limited crops and built mounds.

The ability to make pottery gave them a place to store the seeds and grains from their cultivation efforts and allowed them to become more stationary than predecessors who were primarily hunter/gatherers. The inhabitants of the Batesville Mounds — interchangeably referred to the Harmon Mounds as well, for the family that owned the land for many decades — also hunted and gathered. Undoubtedly they also fished, harvesting the bounty of the Tallahatchie River much as the Chickasaws and Choctaws did after them and the white man and black man after them.

The ability to live in one location allowed time to build structures more permanent than wood, brush and thatch huts. Thus the mounds. They dug the earth for the mounds from nearby borrow pits still there and hauled it in baskets to construct the monuments. Archeologists agree that the mounds played an important role as ceremonial burial sites, but they also conjecture other ceremonial uses.

“The Harmon Mounds site is a unique Middle Woodland site,” Holland wrote in her 1992 report, “… very important in adding new information to a sketchy period in southeastern prehistory.”
The early inhabitants built five mounds at the site. Although agriculture and erosion has worn away the smaller sites — Holland described Mound E as “almost imperceptible” — Mound C, a “high conical mound with a slightly flattened top” rises over 20 feet around the level land at its base.

Listing the Batesville Mounds site on the newly established Mississippi Mounds Trail and clearing trees and vegetation to make them once again visible from Highway 35 would be the first step to raising awareness of the unique archeological and cultural heritage within the city.
Batesville city officials appeared to react favorably last week when John Nelson proposed a staged development that might not only result in recognition as a stop on the Mounds Trail but could also lead to further access to the site and ultimately to the establishment of a museum nearby.

Nelson cited Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) traffic counts that record an average of 38,000 vehicles daily passing Batesville on Interstate 55.

Of those, an average of 6,000 daily pull off at each Batesville exit. “Even the Batesville north exit seemed to have as much flow off the highway as Highway 6,” he said.

Nelson is an amateur historian who serves on a committee of the Panola Historical and Genealogical Society (Pan Gens) that is attempting to establish a local museum.

“We think this would be a great thing for the county,” Nelson told the mayor and aldermen. “I want to emphasize that it doesn’t take that much to get he project up and running,” he said.