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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Poverty Point (2000–1000 B.C.)

Poverty Point is located in the lower Mississippi valley of Louisiana, near both the Gulf Coast and the confluence of six major rivers. Strategically placed on numerous trade routes, the site of Poverty Point was large and influential, dominating much of the surrounding region and serving as a focus for innovation and growth. Unique in the configuration of its earthen structures—notably concentric, semi-elliptical ridges of great size—it had no equal in grandeur in its day. Earth-moving activities for the shaping of the wide plaza began about 1500 B.C. and while the construction history of the site is not well understood today, the earthen structures were built and enlarged for hundreds of years, with the site reaching its final plan at about 1000 B.C. The concentric semi-ellipses abut a bluff over the Bayou Maçon and enclose an open plaza covering an area of about 34 acres. Aislelike openings run between the concentric rings, which are thought to have stood over six feet high. They may have functioned, at least partially, as living areas. Mound A, the largest mound at the site, rises to a height of over 70 feet and is adjacent to the eastern side of the great ridges. Mound A is complex in plan and shape and is thought to be birdlike. Objects excavated at Poverty Point and related sites were often made of materials that originated in distant places—implying viable trade networks—and include chipped stone projectile points and tools, ground stone plummets, gorgets and vessels, and shell and stone beads. Hand-modeled clay objects, lowly fired, occur in a variety of shapes. Figurines and cooking balls are among them.

First reported in 1873, the semi-elliptical ridges of Poverty Point were thought to be natural formations. It was only in the 1950s, when the site was viewed from the air, that archaeologists realized they were manmade.