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Mound People

    It is perhaps one of the hottest days of the summer. And I am in western Kentucky and it seems to me to be even hotter. The trip is worth the heat and humidity though because I am visiting a very unique park. This park is devoted to the civilization that once occupied the Mississippi valley and central North America. Today's visit is to Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site.

Park grounds with museum building

    Located on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in western Kentucky the park is the site of a once thriving small community of people that lived at the site around 1100 to 1250 A.D. or about 750 years ago. According to archaeological evidence the small village lasted about 150 years. There are four main mounds that comprise the park and each one was for a different purpose. Some were for burial of loved ones, like our cemeteries of today  Others provided platforms for houses of person of status such as leaders of the community. And other earthen mounds appeared to be for ceremonial and business purposes.
    Wickliffe Mounds has an archaeological excavations site of the apparently living areas of some of the community. Tools, foods they ate and how their homes were built and arranged have all been gleaned from the excavations of the site. These excavations were conducted in the 1930's by the then owner Fain King, an amateur archaeologist. Mr. King opened and operated the excavations as a tourist attraction. In 1983 the property was turned over to Murray State University which operated the site as a research center. In recent years Wickliffe Mounds was designated as a historic site and became part of the Kentucky State Park System.
Artist rendering of how mound may have been used
    We know understand that this prehistoric village was part of the Mississippian culture that thrived in the central part of North America. The people that lived in this small settlement were part of a bigger society that occupied the entire region with the largest city of the Mississippian people living in Cahokia Mounds in southern Illinois. Cahokia mounds built the same type of earthen mounds as the Wickliffe people except on a much larger scale.It is thought that as many as 20,000 people lived in the city. Wickliffe Mounds was simply a small satellite community much like small communities today are arranged on the outskirts of large cities.
Inside the museum at Wickliffe Mounds State Park
    The mound builders had developed an elaborate social structure. Agricultural practice of raising corn and other cultivated crops the Mississippian people were able to produce a surplus of food. With extra food being available specialized skills became possible just like our society of today. The mound builders transition their society from a hunter gatherer people to agricultural.
    The open excavations are protected inside the main museum building along with a variety of exhibits that explain many of the tools and materials used in the everyday life of the Wickliffe people. The site is unique among Kentucky State Parks in that it is the only park completely dedicated to a prehistoric culture. The park also includes a small gift shop and picnic shelter and facilities.
    While in the area on this visit a took a short ride over to the Ballard County wildlife management area and got a glimpse at some of the cypress swamps and waterways that are in this lowland region of Kentucky. As I am from Eastern Kentucky where the land is hilly to mountainous it is fascinating to me so see this totally different type of landscape in our beautiful state. Western Kentucky has a lot of interesting history and places to enjoy.

Cypress grove in Ballard County, Ky


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