Louisiana’s Poverty Point State Historic Site could one day be mentioned with the same historical significance of such cultural and natural sites as the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty and the Galapagos Islands.
The vast complex of earthen mounds and ridges in West Carroll Parish built by inhabitants more than 3,500 years ago is among 13 sites on the U.S. Department of Interior’s tentative list of places that could be nominated to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage List.
“The inclusion of Poverty Point on the World Heritage List would elevate the status of both the site and our park system tremendously,” said Stuart Johnson, assistant secretary of Louisiana’s Office of State Parks. “It would be absolutely huge to reach that level of distinction.”
From the ground, Poverty Point may just look like a series of tree-topped earthen mounds, but from the air, it reveals itself to be a massive, complexly designed, and expertly constructed series of interwoven half-circles. It is believed to be as much as 3,600 years old. The strangest thing is: No one knows exactly why Poverty Point was built. Some New Age folks think it’s spiritually significant; some say the place was built by extraterrestrials. (The science suggests that Poverty Point was constructed gradually, over a period of hundreds of years).
The vast earthen architecture of this site was constructed by a foraging society of hunter- gatherers, not a settled agricultural people, which makes it all the more remarkable a site. It is still not understood how and why such a society could so totally transform this landscape. It may well be the largest hunter-gatherer settlement that has ever existed. Not only was it the largest settlement of its time in North America, but its design was absolutely unique and its construction required an unprecedented amount (over 750,000 cubic meters) of earth-moving. Poverty Point was also the center of a major exchange network with goods brought in from as far as 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) distant.
There are no reconstructions at the site and only a small portion has been excavated. Agricultural use in the 19th and 20th centuries caused some deflation of the southern sectors of the concentric earthen ridges and more severe damage to a small part of one of the ridges. Other damage includes an historic road that bisected one of the mounds.
If Poverty Point became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it would be a coup for Louisiana. But regardless, clearly, Poverty Point is one of our country’s most significant prehistoric sites.