Poverty Point State Historic Site- Enigmatic Traces of an Ancient Civilization (and Spear Throwing!)

Louisiana shares an international distinction with the Statue of Liberty, India’s Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. The Poverty Point State Historic Site in Northeast Louisiana is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, one of only 24 in the United States and the only one located in our state. Poverty Point is also a Smithsonian Affiliate and a National Monument. Poverty Point is also a Louisiana State Historic site and is operated by Louisiana State Parks. The site is a unique and amazing place just a few hours drive from our community.

Poverty Point is, more than anything else, an abiding and fascinating mystery. The people who inhabited the site lived there over 3.000 years ago. There are no written records, and artifacts such as clothing, canoes, nets, etc. have long since decayed over the centuries. All we have left as clues are the massive earthen mounds, stone and clay artifacts.
The inhabitants, known as Poverty Point People, were a hunter-gatherer society who lived in the area from around 1700 to 1100 B.C. To place this in context, Socrates died around 399 B.C. and the city of Rome was founded around 750 B. C.
The Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti died in 1330 B.C. Poverty Point is truly an ancient and enigmatic civilization that left almost no traces aside from the earthen mounds. After the site was abandoned for reasons unknown, around 1100 B.C., there was little to no human habitation until European settlement in the 1800’s.

The most common artifacts found at Poverty Point are “Poverty Point Objects”, round hollow balls of clay that were used for cooking food. People would build a fire and place the ball, filled with fish or meat, into the coals to cook. Rocks and stone are not native to the area, so the discovery of artifacts such as weapons and beads made of stone indicated that Poverty Point was a major trading center.

The Visitors Center is at the focal point of the six concentric C shaped ridges and mounds of the site, The Visitors Center contains a museum that details what little we know about the people who lived there during that time. The park’s staff are knowledgeable and their enthusiasm for their site and its history is quite contagious. There are short walking and driving tours one can take around the site as well.

One of the highlights of a visit is the atlatl demonstration. The atlatl, or spear thrower, is one of humanity’s oldest and ubiquitous inventions, used in ancient times from Siberia to Europe and the Americas. It is a device that uses leverage to increase the range and velocity of a thrown spear. Park Manager Mark Brink, who surely has one of the coolest jobs in state government, gives visitors a short talk on the history of the atlatl, a brief demonstration and then turns them loose to try their hand at prehistoric weaponry. Let us just say that I would lose a lot of weight were I to be dependent on hunting with a spear! Many thanks to fellow visitor Tamara Danel for sharing a video of my spear throwing prowess. In addition to the popular atlatl demonstration, the park’s Interpretive Rangers also demonstrate cooking with an earth oven and flint knapping.

As you walk up the trail to the top of Mound A, one cannot help but wonder about the civilization that built the site. Why did the Poverty Point People build these massive earthen mounds, built using baskets of dirt over a period of centuries? What was the site used for; commerce, religion or a combination of both? Why did the people abandon the site? The answers to those questions are lost in time.

The Poverty Point State Historic Site charges a very modest $4.00 admission. Seniors 62 and older are free as are children 3 and under. The site’s 402 acres host 15,000 to 20,000 visitors in an average year. The Park is located at 6859 Hwy 577, Pioneer, LA. The phone is 318-926-5492.


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2 thoughts on “Poverty Point State Historic Site- Enigmatic Traces of an Ancient Civilization (and Spear Throwing!)

  1. Poverty Point is a true treasure.

    Poverty Point Objects (PPO) are not hollow. They are solid and are created using a ceramic, pit-fire technology. They are the most ubiquitous artifact at the site.

  2. Nice report Kevin. Dawn and I trekked out there in the miata years ago and we enjoyed it. They didn’t have the atlatl demonstrations then but you know she would have been all over that!

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