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Scientists urge more research before ancient mounds along Louisiana’s coast disappear

The LSU Campus Mounds pictured here are the oldest known man-made structures in North America.

Posted on January 9, 2023

Indian mounds scattered along Louisiana’s Gulf coast could be lost forever to rising sea levels unless they’re included in the state’s coastal restoration plans.

A new study looked at Mississippi Delta archeological research over the last centennial and made recommendations for future research.

“Louisiana scientific archaeological research started about a century ago,” said Matt Helmer, lead author and affiliate professor of anthropology at LSU. “This means we now have a pretty long record to assess both past trends and future challenges regarding research, site preservation and management. We can see what works and what is needed – namely better integration of archaeology within coastal restoration planning.”

Helmer said there was a large effort on the statewide and federal levels to excavate and document archaeology in Louisiana in the mid-1900s. He said that the same amount of effort is needed now before sites are “lost to the sea.”

“Today we can do even better,” Helmer added. “We have new tools and technology to study the sites and a new conceptual framework to understand them as part of the living landscape. This means archaeological sites can be managed in a way that includes their cultural, ecological and physical importance, and to consider them the same way that we do endangered natural and biological resources.”

Mounds existing today are found in “various states of preservation” with the majority of sites located on private property, according to the study. People are now prohibited from walking on the mounds on LSU’s campus after years of “wear and tear,” said a website dedicated to the earthworks.

Mounds at LSU oldest known man-made structures on continent, research shows

To improve sharing and integration of archeological data, scientists suggest:

  • Increased accessibility and linking of state and federal databases to facilitate research and broader comparative studies.
  • Engaging libraries to aid in cataloging gray literature for dissemination.
  • Incentives from public funding entities or academic partnerships (e.g. through graduate student programs) for CRM companies to publish research.
  • Better integration with local communities and the public (e.g. public exhibitions, interpretive signage, site visits), who as taxpayers fund the majority of archeological projects.
  • Cataloging and curation of collections to facilitate research on legacy datasets, such as university, state and government agency artifact collections.

“It is amazing that in Louisiana we have a multi-millennia record of people living with and adapting to coastal change, captured in the mound sites,” said co-author and assistant professor at Wageningen University Liz Chamberlain. “This is an important part of Louisiana heritage, and one that should be studied and preserved.”


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