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May 22, by Diana Yates, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Hundreds of ancient mound sites, depicted here with yellow triangles, still survive in coastal Louisiana. A new study teases out the natural and human history of one of these mound-top villages, a site known as Grand Caillou, shown in red.
Julie McMahon after Mehta and Chamberlain. A study of ancient mound builders who lived hundreds of years ago on the Mississippi River Delta near present-day New Orleans offers new insights into how Native peoples selected the landforms that supported their villages and earthen mounds—and why these sites were later abandoned.
The study, reported in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, also offers a timeline of the natural and human events that shaped one particular site, said University of Illinois anthropology professor Jayur Mehta, who conducted the work with Vanderbilt University postdoctoral researcher Elizabeth Chamberlain while both were at Tulane University in New Orleans.
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The site, now known as Grand Caillou, is one of hundreds of mound sites in coastal Louisiana, Mehta said. They often situated their mounds near resource-rich waterways, which could support larger human settlements.
As many as people lived at Grand Caillou in its heyday. Some mounds also served ceremonial functions.
That so many mound sites have survived in coastal Louisiana is a testament to their careful construction, Mehta said. Neglect, however, and coastal subsidence—the result of engineered changes to the flow of the Mississippi River—are wearing away at the mounds.
The researchers used a variety of methods—sediment coring, radiocarbon dating, carbon-isotope analysis, the dating of ceramics found onsite and a method called optically stimulated luminescence—to figure out how and when the land underneath the Grand Caillou mound was formed by natural forces and when the mound builders arrived and established their settlement. The mound at Grand Caillou.