On the eastern edge of Marksville, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana sits a complex of 2,500 year old, human constructed mounds: an ancient, earthen pyramid city. It resides along an old bed of the Mississippi River, now a set of bayous and long lakes that once fed the Red River until that, too, shifted away.
Over the decades, archeologists have identified seven mounds. They determined that this city was constructed by the "Hopewell Culture," whose building, pottery, and burial methods ranged throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys. The contributions from this culture waned in the first century C.E. Since the people who practiced the Hopewell Culture left no written records, it is simply conjecture what happened to them and why they abandoned this ceremonial city that now is the town of Marksville.
"Hopewells" may have not been ethnically related to each other but may have shared religious practices. The village at Marksville may have been used for religious ceremonies, including burials: one of the mounds holds the bones of men, women, and children (there could have been other burial mounds, but they've been plowed over). The other mounds may have served as ceremonial stages. Evidence suggests that no one actually resided in the village, which leads me to conclude that it was a cemetery for VIPs and a site for rituals associated with being a VIP. The mounds were arranged in a geometric pattern and align with constellations, sun, and moon phases. The Hopewell Culture might have been the seed that developed the Mississippi Culture, with its ceremonial center of Cahokia, which was at one point the largest city in the Western Hemisphere until it, too, waned.
No one knows why the Hopewell or the Mississippian cultures de-centralized (i.e., abandoned their cities and shared cultures). Their demise occurred centuries before European colonization. Their descendants are the Caddos, Quapaws, Osages, Shawnees, Wichitas, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and many, many more. Today, within Avoyelles Parish, resides the Avoyel-Taensa nation, whose cultural artifacts show a direct link to the Marksville Mound site.
In the 1950s, the "Marksville Site" became a state historic park, where a museum and walking trails were erected. The mounds were declared a "national monument" in the 1960s. By 2020, however, the site closed permanently due to "years of budget woes" and stewardship reverted to the city of Marksville, which is negotiating with the Tunica-Biloxi Nation to transfer ownership. As of yet, this hasn't happened.
Nita Cole of the Louisiana Exhibit Museum explained that "With more than 700 sites, Louisiana has one of the most prolific and best preserved mound networks in the world. Yet very few people are aware of the significance of the mounds to Native Americans or the dangers the historical sites continue to face" (Shreveport Times, 2017).
A few summers ago, I visited the Marksville site and was dismayed at its state of disrepair. I ventured briefly beyond the gate to capture a few images, just to document that this very, very important place needs our attention.
Before politicians in the state of Louisiana shut down most of its cultural sites, an interactive guide was developed to learn more about the state's heritage. Here is the website's page on Marksville. It's its own relic, too.
WTH, Louisiana. You wanna be like Cairo (Illinois)?!?!