New Evidence: America’s First Civilization Was Made Up of “Sophisticated” Engineers

Poverty Point Core Features

The illustration above shows the core features of the Poverty Point site in northern Louisiana. The green to the right is the Mississippi River flood plain. The orange is Macon Ridge, the higher ground on which the site is located. Six C-shaped ridges are visible at the site. Parts of the ridges have been damaged by historic and modern activities. The pattern south of Mound E is the result of farm activity. Many of the low areas around the site — lighter yellow — are thought to be places where soil was mined to make ridges and mounds. Credit: Washington University in St. Louis

The Native Americans who occupied the area known as Poverty Point in northern Louisiana more than 3,000 years ago long have been believed to be simple hunters and gatherers. But new Washington University in St. Louis archaeological findings paint a drastically different picture of America’s first civilization.

Far from the simplicity of life sometimes portrayed in anthropology books, these early Indigenous people were highly skilled engineers capable of building massive earthen structures in a matter of months — possibly even weeks — that withstood the test of time, the findings show.

“We as a research community — and population as a whole — have undervalued native people and their ability to do this work and to do it quickly in the ways they did,” said Tristram R. “T.R.” Kidder, lead author and the Edward S. and Tedi Macias Professor of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences.

“One of the most remarkable things is that these earthworks have held together for more than 3,000 years with no failure or major erosion. By comparison, modern bridges, highways and dams fail with amazing regularity because building things out of dirt is more complicated than you would think. They really were incredible engineers with very sophisticated technical knowledge.”

The findings were published recently in Southeastern Archaeology. Washington University’s Kai Su and Seth B. Grooms, along with graduates Edward R. Henry (Colorado State) and Kelly Ervin (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service) also contributed to the paper.

Poverty Point Ridges

Each ridge is designated by a number — 1 being the inner ridge and 6 the outer ridge. Researchers believe some of the dirt used to construct the ridges came from the wet areas between the ridges. Credit: Washington University in St. Louis

The Poverty Point World Heritage site consists of a massive 72-foot-tall earthen mound and concentric half circle ridges. The structures were constructed by hunter-gatherers approximately 3,400 years ago from nearly 2 million cubic yards of soil. Amazingly, this was done without the luxury of modern tools, domesticated animals or even wheeled carts.

According to Kidder, the site was likely an important religious site where Native Americans came in pilgrimage, similar to Mecca. It was abandoned abruptly between 3,000-3,200 years ago — most likely due to documented flooding in the Mississippi Valley and climate change.

The ridges at Poverty Point contain vast amounts of artifacts around the edges and within, suggesting that people lived there. Kidder and team re-excavated and re-evaluated a site on Ridge West 3 at the Poverty Point Site that was originally excavated by renowned archaeologist Jon Gibson in 1991.

Poverty Point Excavation

An excavation before sampling. Note the color changes between layers. The darker layers have carbon-rich deposits made by humans, such as midden or garbage that was scraped up and dumped to form the ridge structure during construction. There is little organic garbage in the upper third section. Credit: Washington University in St. Louis

Using modern research methods, including radiocarbon dating, microscopic analysis of soils and magnetic measurements of soils, the research provides conclusive evidence that the earthworks were built rapidly. Essentially, there is no evidence of boundaries or signs of weathering between the various levels, which would have occurred if there was even a brief pause in construction. Kidder believes the construction was completed in lifts, or layers of sediment deposited to increase the ridge height and linear dimensions before another layer was placed to expand the footprint vertically and horizontally.

“Native Americans discovered sophisticated ways of mixing different types of materials to make them virtually indestructible, despite not being compacted. There’s some magic there that our modern engineers have not been able to figure out yet.”
Tristram Kidder

Why does that matter? According to Kidder, the findings challenge previous beliefs about how pre-modern hunters and gatherers behaved. Building the enormous mounds and ridges at Poverty Point would have required a large labor pool that was well organized and would have required leadership to execute. Hunters and gathers were believed to shun politics.

“Between the speed of the excavation and construction, and the quantity of earth being moved, these data show us native people coming to the site and working in concert. This in and of itself is remarkable because hunter-gatherers aren’t supposed to be able to do these activities,” Kidder said.

What’s even more impressive than how quickly the people built the earthen structures is the fact that they’re still intact. Due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, this area receives immense amounts of rain that makes earthworks especially prone to erosion. Microscopic analysis of soils shows that the Native Americans mixed different types of soil — clays, silts and sand — in a calculated recipe to make the structures stronger.

“Similar to the Roman concrete or rammed earth in China, Native Americans discovered sophisticated ways of mixing different types of materials to make them virtually indestructible, despite not being compacted. There’s some magic there that our modern engineers have not been able to figure out yet,” Kidder said.

Reference: “Multi-method geoarchaeological analyses demonstrates exceptionally rapid construction of Ridge West 3 at Poverty Point” by Tristram R. Kidder, Su Kai, Edward R. Henry, Seth B. Grooms and Kelly Ervin, 1 September 2021, Southeastern Archaeology.
DOI: 10.1080/0734578X.2021.1958445

45 Comments on "New Evidence: America’s First Civilization Was Made Up of “Sophisticated” Engineers"

  1. “t was abandoned abruptly between 3,000-3,200 years ago — most likely due to documented flooding in the Mississippi Valley and climate change.”

    In other words, they have no idea why it was abandoned. Climate change? Yeah, right, the all-purpose explanation du jour.

  2. The notion of hunters and gatherers doesn’t make sense at all for this.
    Nobody builds large structures like that and just leaves a month later. Most likely they were there for a long time, and used it for a long time. Unfortunately history is written by idiots, and suppressed truth’s simply just by digging deeper aren’t obtained because it doesn’t fit their narrative of the past – So they can’t get funding. Sad.

  3. Rich Oppenheimer | October 10, 2021 at 8:05 am | Reply

    If you think America’s first civilization was only 3000 years ago. Your mind is as primitive as a flat earther’s.

  4. stephen schaffer | October 10, 2021 at 8:12 am | Reply

    “similar to Mecca.” Seriously? This was chosen as a reference in a made up sociological analysis of what Native American’s were doing thousands of years ago? How PC and wokie can you get.

    • Thank you! Seriously are we so PC we can’t simply say they were more advanced then once thought and go from there but to compare them to Rome and China and other civilizations because they could mix dirt in proportions to help it withstand the elements is ludicrous.

  5. Anthony Spaeth | October 10, 2021 at 9:03 am | Reply

    The first sentence is totally wrong.

    “The Native Americans who occupied the area known as Poverty Point in northern Louisiana more than 3,000 years ago long have been believed to be simple hunters and gatherers.”

    0 anthropologists and 0 archeologists think this.

    As for this:

    “Far from the simplicity of life sometimes portrayed in anthropology books, these early Indigenous people were highly skilled engineers”

    I challenge you to find one anthropology text book written in the last 50 year supporting this.

    Argument against straw man.

  6. Christopher W Basnett | October 10, 2021 at 9:13 am | Reply

    “Building the enormous mounds and ridges at Poverty Point would have required a large labor pool that was well organized and would have required leadership to execute. Hunters and gathers were believed to shun politics.”
    Since when has organization and leadership had anything to do with politics?! This really is ancient history!

  7. w. martin readling jr | October 10, 2021 at 9:40 am | Reply

    Poverty point fish trap

    It’s a giant sequential fish trap! Bayou Macon becomes a second channel for the Mississippi in flood times, but is relatively dry otherwise. The mounds are places for fishermen to ride out the flood, and to moor their nets, and/or fish trap fences.

    Flood waters flowing over the mounds, and through fish fences lost kinetic, and potential energy, deposited food, fertile silt, and tree debris used as fuel, mulch, and construction on the fences, and the ground. The largest settlement nearby was mound A.

    Initial activity post-flood would be search for fruit, fish, and other animals while still alive, or edible. Second feast on, and preserve meat, and fruit. Third: depending on season, clear easiest areas of debris for cultivation/planting annual or biennial crops.
    Forth: depending on season collect construction materials to rebuild fences, mulch, and fuel by making trails/roads into debris heavy areas. Excess debris made into charcoal, or burned to clear land, and fertilize. May have had a composting/vermiculture/insect based scheme for floods with sufficient green plant matter.

    I think they diverted Bayou Macon through some pre-existing “bluffs”, and increased elevations around mound D. Floods have largely removed this feature.

    Flood waters were stopped by the raised area around, fell through the ring ridges, and drained via the dug out areas back to the Mississippi. It’s like a catchers mitt for whatever the Mississippi throws high, and to the right of the plate!

    Every flood, you’d get a windfall of fish, timber, fuel, and fertilizer. Presumably, it started out smaller, and as it grew, more flood water was diverted through it. Over time, the soil engineering of the culture would become sophisticated, simply because it would be rewarded based on measurable results, which was, what survived the flood best. The better the survival, the easier the repair, and the more fish caught.

    The structures may have been built over millennia. The channel of Bayou Macon may have been dug out to increase flow in small floods, or the big river diverted near lake Chicot where the Mississippi excavated the banks of a bend, making an oxbow lake, or the Bayou was the natural bed of the river back then..

    It might be possible to create a channel that would act as a pump, based on stagnation pressure, or the natural frequencies of the system(water ways). The kinetic, and potential energy of the river, and now eroded earthworks, may have been used to created a standing wave, or excite soliton waves that reflected from end to end of a channel segment, until there was enough constructive interference to lift water over the ridges. Of course there would be a minimum flow where this would work. If soliton’s were used, it could be the first example of wave amplification by stimulated emission, a “WaveASER” if you will.

    This is a job for computational fluid dynamics. Who knows what simulations of possible earthworks might reveal?

  8. LotharOfTheHillPeople | October 10, 2021 at 10:15 am | Reply

    Do we have the remains of these people of this civilization to say who they were specifically? Or are we just guessing?

  9. So sad nobody believes anything written by educated people. Guess uneducated people rule the internet and make foolish remarks.

  10. Why put the word sophisticated in quotation marks?? Europeans were the pedophiles.

  11. Some people don’t seem to realize, hunter-gathers have always been here on earth. From the americas- Mayan, aztecs,incase, just to name a few to the Asians that built large cities, to Africa, and all these civilizations came to an end. Climate change, over population, diseases. Things happen.

  12. The biggest conceit of the modern era is that we know everything and the previous generations, civilizations were stupid Neanderthals when in actuality everything we know is based off everything that was learned decades, centuries, millenia ago

  13. Science and Technology Daily is the official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China. It is published in Chinese and based in Beijing. Historically, it was one of the few Chinese newspapers to cover the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Wikipedia

  14. I am interested to know whether there are earth alignmemts with planting cycles and the solstices and equinoxes, which might integrate the construction of other sites. And any similarity, for example, with Chaco Canyon’s extensive alignments with other sites over miles, and across geographical barriers, such as obscuring topographical ridges. Which would suggest generations of nightly observations to compliment generations of engineering typical with sacred sites in Mesoamerica. Is there evidence of transmission between indigenous engineers? And how connected geographically through trade and culture were the Americas?

  15. Not America’s first natives. The Adena nation lived in the USA and Canada areas about 1000 years before the Hopewells you are talking about. They built even larger earthworks and mounds. Highly sophisticated lunar based earthworks. To bad the adena destroyed themselves around 200 BC.

  16. In about 600 BC, there was an ancient civilization known as the Jaredites which wiped themselves out in civil war. You can read about it in the Book of Mormon. While the book of Mormon focuses mostly on the people who came after the jaredites, there is a section called The book of ether which focuses on the Jaredite people. It would be about 2,600 years ago now since they wiped themselves out. Definitely worth a read.

    https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm?lang=eng

  17. Anytime Archaeologists discover large buildings they are assumed to have been built for religious purposes. How could ancient humans have kept themselves alive if they spent all day praying and building temples. Maybe these mounds had a practical purpose. I’m part Chickasaw/Choctaw and our ancestors built mounds like these. However the modern day descendants of the builders aren’t exactly Jehovah’s Witnesses lol. They are a very practical and business like pair of tribes.

  18. I’m always amazed at the clueless stupidity of folks who comment as if they actually know something about a subject..with absolutely no scientific credentials! Isaac Assimov wrote about this psychological defect. It’s as if democracy means your idiot ideas are equal to the actual scientists’!

  19. I have moved surprising quantities of dirt with no assistance, machine, or animal, with buckets. Use a tool similar to a hoe or boat paddle, and “sweep” loose dirt from the pile, to create a layer, or “lift”. A series of bucket dumps can be leveled rather efficiently.

  20. What I got from this story is; people came together, built something that has withstood the elements and time, and we should study and learn more.
    Live curiously you turds.

  21. They were highly engineered enough to mix materials to stand the test of time, but didn’t use wheels or animals? How shortsighted! No mention that they were not built by paid laborers but most likely by prison labor.

  22. When you speak about America please include all of America and not just the United States. Because what you are saying then is not true. There where civilizations older than 3,000 years in America but not the United States OF America. Got it?

  23. Charles Buckles | October 10, 2021 at 10:25 pm | Reply

    Easy old copper culture transshipement point.the place all the superior copper was offloaded from the rafts that brought it down the mississippi prior to its shipement across atlantic. Closed when santorini made the need for copper collapse iron age follows,

  24. Rebecca McDaniel | October 10, 2021 at 10:34 pm | Reply

    This place is spectacular.
    If ever in the area.. you should visit.

  25. It is hard to believe the assertion that today’s engineering cannot duplicate this. Of course it could be copied. What is more likely frustrating to modern engineering is that it cannot achieve the same thing with less volume of modern materials (with sometimes spotty quality control) put together by fewer people getting paid union wages with OSHA protection.

  26. Ridiculous conjecture and hypotheses based on beliefs…pure pseudoscience. This isn’t even peer reviewed. These structures may represent nothing more than pure luck… when you find dozens more that are identical in materials, structure, let us know. Please don’t tell us the others eroded away.

  27. KEVIN D WAMPLER | October 11, 2021 at 8:46 am | Reply

    People came across the Bering Straights 10,000 years ago, and established the first civilization 3,000 years ago? This is an insult to indigenous people of Canada Alaska and America, and Hispanics. This doesn’t represent Science, and is hyperbole for clicks.

  28. Happy Indigenous People Day

  29. Gregory G Duda | October 11, 2021 at 3:09 pm | Reply

    We have three major global civilizations in the past that could possibly be 50,000+ yrs old they are not sure,the Smithsonian has untold numbers of unexplainable artifacts.The educated experts can’t explain how many structures were built Globekli Tepi Mayans Egyptians Easter Island Nan Madol ECT just conjecture because the truth is uncomfortable they had help just like our present civilization man has far more knowledge than we should we are much too dangerous unless moral and just men control it.

  30. Gregory G Duda | October 11, 2021 at 3:50 pm | Reply

    At least the archaeologists are truthful about climate change it makes no difference whom or what occupies this fantastic blue marble with or without us the planetary cycles continue and displaces and eliminates populations/This one including how many other civilization have risen and falled.There have been 3 advanced civilizations on this planet and we are not talking a measly 5000yrs ago how about 100,000yrs ago like Globeki Tepi the ancient Chinese and Japanese Egyptians/Nam Madol/Antartica???.The Smithsonian holds how many unexplainable artifacts hidden away as well as all across the globe as with this present civilization we had help.Duda

  31. covid,ebola, populated areas low sanitary where did they go?

  32. OK could we keep this all in perspective to what the rest of the world was doing at this time. To call them sophisticated engineers is a bit of a stretch compared Egypt, Rome and other civilizations who have far more elaborate structures still standing. It would have been more accurate to say that natives in the America’s were far more then just simple hunter and gatherers. Then go through the evidence. But they can not be put on the same level as many other civilizations at that time.

  33. Guess the book of mormon has truth. Those stories make more sense now

  34. STOP CALLING THEM AMERICA’S FIRST CIVILIZATION. IT MAY BE THE OLDEST FOUND SO FAR BUT I DOUBT, WITH A 99.99999% CERTAINTY IT’S THE FIRST OR THE OLDEST. IT’S JUST THE OLDEST FOUND YET.
    ALSO, WHY DO YOU ASSUME IT WAS MADE BY THE NATIVE AMERICANS?
    I GUARANTEE THAT PEOPLE OF ALL COLORS WERE COMING HERE THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO AND MAYBE THERE WERE PEOPLE HERE BEFORE THE NATIVE AMERICANS.
    MAYBE THERE WAS A SECT OF PEOPLE FROM EUROPE OR ASIA HERE THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO LIVING ALONG SIDE OF THE NATIVES. WE DON’T KNOW SO DON’T ASSUME.

    IT AMAZES ME THAT SCIENTISTS ARE SO NARROW MINDED THAT THEY THINK THE EGYPTIANS WERE SMART AND ADVANCED ENOUGH TO BUILD PYRAMIDS BUT NATIVE AMERICANS OF THE SAME PERIOD WERE SO FAR BEHIND THAT THEY WERE STILL BASICALLY LIVING LIKE NEANDERTHALS.
    FOR SUPPOSEDLY BEING SO SMART SCIENTISTS SURE ARE DUMB.

  35. Give “America Before” by Graham Hancock a read. Worthwhile, although not very fluid.

  36. Richard Morthole | October 12, 2021 at 8:25 pm | Reply

    Everybody forgets about the fishing traps made on Lake Yellowstone that are made in concentric circles that are almost exactly like these mounds… these are just more sophisticated, permanent, and the fact that they are still around without being washed out by the mighty Mississippi is a testament to their engineering, as well as their soil mixture. I wouldn’t be surprised if they find more when they start looking…

  37. Robert A. Kokjohn, Jr. | October 12, 2021 at 9:25 pm | Reply

    I personally believe ancient civilizations had the knowledge of how to build roads, dams, and as this appears to me to be…a flood gate. Why we as a modern civilization have failed to build in the best way possible is beyond me. Let’s take brick roads for example.. they last hundreds of years. Compared to a highway built 20 years ago the old brick roads are still more structurally sound. To build a decent long lasting highway it takes the proper leveling of the dirt, the correct type of cement with a correct water content, and it would be more practical to use pre-made cement blocks and to fit them like bricks. We have something brick layers didn’t have that we know we of. Rubber. Rubber placed between several larger than brick pieces of cement. Let’s say they are 4 ft by 4ft and layed close but not exactly touching and then fill I with rubber to make a patched road. This would also make it much easier fix a bad or broken section. Cement is not meant to be poured onto the ground and left to dry in weathered conditions. It needs correct temperature and moisture to bond properly. I hope if this new infrastructure bill creates roads..it’ll create long lasting ones requiring little rework. We need new dams as while. Perhaps building them to allow a flow from one turbine allowing the water to flow out like a waterfall and have a train car below that, that uses that water flow to turn not one but two turbines. If I could I be willing to send a drawing of what I’m talking about. Us modern day humans are all about fast, cost effective work…that is really just sloppy building. I’m not an architect. I have built a few things and I love to paint. I currently do custodial work for a few companies but would like to get into a field that requires my knowledge and innovative ideas. Perhaps we will never gave all the answers as to how pyramids and other things where built. I think on the pyramids though the answer is from the top down. Moving the sand out and sliding the large stones down sloped valleys that created. There’s no way men lifted those blocks and there’s no way they could have been built using heavy modern day machinery. Thus it is true they are built in every continent except upper North America or we have yet to uncover on there. I believe man has become so reliant on technology and has lost grasps with unification and solidarity as a whole.

  38. James M. Bailey | October 13, 2021 at 1:17 am | Reply

    Politics in its most radical sense is the social organization and administration of a city. The permanent structure was engineered, but its construction was a political activity.

  39. Normandie S. Kent | October 13, 2021 at 9:44 pm | Reply

    Why would we assume that the Native Americans built these pyaramids!? Why!? Because only Native Americans lived here and are buried inside the mounds and in buriel grounds you idiots!? Ever heard of DNA and skeletal and cranial morphology!? Who else would honestly be here besides NAs!? None of your fantasies of white Euros, Jews, or Africans are even a possibility. Some of you braindead boneheads can’t picture a civilization if your own race are not in it. This was the Native American homeland on noth continents,and your people were not here. Get over it. Native Americans had countless more civilizations than in Europe. There is Chaco Canyon, the Hopewell, Cahokia, Adela, Olmec, Mayan. Aztec, Toltec, and Incan civilizations and countless others were created in isolation away from all other non-American civilizations. While in Europe you only had Rome and Greece, there were no civilizations in Northern Europe. Rome and Greece were influenced from Africa and Asia who then diffused into Europe. Without them there would be no European civilizations.

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