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Emerald Mound is the second largest Native American ceremonial mound in the United States. Built and used from around 1250 A.D. to 1700 A.D., the mound is located about ten miles northeast of Natchez, Adams County, MS. It is 35 feet high, and covers eight acres.
Two secondary mounds rest atop the primary mound, and it is believed there were originally a total of four to six secondary mounds that were located along the sides of the primary mound.
The following paragraph is contributed by
Emerald Mound was built by the Natchez Indians. Current interpretation is that Emerald was for a time the main ceremonial mound center for the Natchez tribe while other mound sites in their territory (e.g. the Grand Village/Fatherland site) were adjunct ceremonial centers serving dispersed settlement districts. Sometime prior to the La Salle Expedition of 1682, Emerald was abandoned and the status of the tribe's main ceremonial center was
Standing atop Emerald Mound, one is almost equal with the level of the tree tops. Lower land, surrounding the mound, can be seen for miles.
Even today, descendants of Native Americans come to the mound to show their respect for their ancestors, and for the land.
Emerald Mound was first excavated in 1838. The most recent excavation was in 1972. At one point, natural erosion of the secondary mounds necessitated restoring and sodding the surface.
On the 28th of May, a large company of gentlemen, about twenty-five in number, repaired to the great mounds in Selsertown.
The distance of the mound from Natchez is about ten miles, bearing east north-east. The road is the one leading to Fayette through Selsertown. Leaving the village of Washington, and passing the residence of W. P. Mellen, Esq., on the right, a mile and a half from the latter place, brought the company in view of the majestic mound, lifting its warlike bastions and town in broad outline about a mile to the left of the main road to Selsertown. Turning down a late at right angels to the great road, the plantation of Walter Irvin, se., Esq., of Natchez, was reached - on which, and near the residence of Walter Irvin, Jr., Esq., the mound is located.
The appearance of the mound, approached from the Fayette road, is that of a long straight battery of earth, with sloping regular front and platform at the top, with some moderate elevations or towers upon the terrace, the whole of which is overlooked by an abrupt tower at the western end toward Natchez, rising nearly as high above the terrace or platform as that does above the circumjacent plain. The outline on the southern side, first approached, is of the most imposing and martial character. The traces of design are so apparent that every observer must involuntarily feel that this is other than a natural erection. So enormous a pile, either thrown up or carved from a primitive hill, in the singular shape in which time still spares it, to remain, must have been the creation of heads that planned, and of a countless multitude of hands that labored through long periods of time.
The magnitude of the mound is such that its relative heights do not at first impress the visitor with their full proportions; but, after a struggle up the steep face of the mound to the broad terrace, which in its turn becomes the base of the great western town and of four other smaller mounds or towers - after a glance at the general outline of the foundation mound, which bears the resemblance of a parallelogram, having a regular southern side, and an irregular bastion front on the north - and after walking over the terrace which includes an area of about five acres, gazing up a at the stern western tower, itself a parallelogram, (once perhaps a regular and perfect one,) aware of the vastness of the creation and renders a full measure of homage to the proud unknown nations that left behind them such a mysterious hieroglyphic of power, speaking a language of grandeur, yet without a relic of a single word that the present age may translate into the elements of aboriginal history.
When walking on the vast terrace one can but think of thousands who trod the same earth centuries ago, of the battle songs that might have rolled in thundering volumes into the still air above, of the chant over the dead, of the ceremonies of a wild and mysterious worship - and of the dreadful hour, when before the tempest of battle or the anger of pestilence, national power melted away, and the surge of empire, in it flow to other lands, ebbed from this mural thrown, leaving it voiceless and a desert.
The height of the great terrace, from its base, is forty-five feet by measurement, and of the great tower above the terrace, thirty-eight feel, making eighty-three feet in all above the plain.
The great length of time he skeletons had been immured, and the consequent rottenness of the bones, prevented the gentlemen from obtaining many perfect specimens of craneology. Indeed, the hope of getting out a whole one, seemed almost abandoned, until the diggers came upon the lower limbs of a full-sized mail about a foot and a half below the present surface, from which considerable earth must have been washed in years past. These were followed up to the head, which, by great care and dexterity, was taken unbroken from its grim pillow, by Mr. James Tooley, Jr. This acquisition was hailed with acclamation, as its developments proved its aboriginal origin, and afforded some probability of what race the mound builders were. It was a compressed skull, after the Flat Head custom, but with a different fashion or compression. The forehead was truly peculiar and imposing, with a broad and lofty field of intellectuality - but with a sad falling off behind. Such a head should always have been turned edgewise in a hurricane. The skull, after a careful cleanings, was immersed in a chemical glutinous menstrum, to preserve if possible, and strengthen the parts entire.
The sides of the larger foundation mound are to a considerable extent, if not wholly, incased, about one foot beneath the surface of the soil, with a sort of rubble, resembling slack baked bricks, without much regularity of form, as if laid upon the original steep faces of the mound to prevent the washing away, in sudden showers, of the soil. This rude roofing, formed of a clay base, and sometimes mixed with hair or moss, like modern mortar, may once have been continuous, or it may not have been otherwise than it is now found; in either case, it was a sufficient security against the action of rain water. The soil above this rubble, was filled with fragments of pottery, pieces of human and animal bones, charcoal, and the debris of the top of the mound and of those smaller towers which would seem to have been almost entirely washed away. Beneath the rubble, on digging into the sides of the mound, no remains of pottery or bones were to be found.
Years ago, gentlemen who then resided in the vicinity of the mound, saw evidence of the existence of a fosse at the foot of the mound, at least on the eastern end; probably a ditch originally encircled the entire mound, which might have been filled to any depth with the rain water that would necessarily fall on so large an area as five acres, carried off by the rubble roofs of the sides. The terrace of the mound, its sides and the fields around it, having, for more than half a century, been cultivated by the plow, it would not be wonderful that nearly all the traces of a continuous ditch should have been filled up.
The pottery found upon the surface of the sides, or from one or two feet below the surface, is of a rare and oftentimes beautiful structure. It is generally in broken pieces, yet large enough to show the shape and curve of the circumference of the vessels of which these pieces were a part. In some cases, the beauty of the shape of the vessel was strikingly evident, and could not be surpassed by any modern manufacturer. It was not glazed, but perfectly smooth, as if some preparation had been spread over the surface of the material previous to the hardening process. The outsides of most of the vessels were ornamented with lines, sometimes drawn parallel to the brim, five or six circles, in the space of an inch in width, extending round the bowl, or by figures of triangular lines and checker-work, elaborately covering most of the outsides of the vessels. The pottery was made of different materials and of different colors; some pieces were brick-colored; others slate-colored; others white. Pieces were found that were made of sea-shells ground into fine laminae, and held together by some affinitive ingredient not yet analyzed.
The smaller mounds upon the terrace of the larger one, are irregularly situated at various points on the bastion or battery walls, like look-out or watch-towers. Near the foot of the one situated at the northeastern corner, were found a number of human skeletons, about one or two feet beneath the surface of the earth, with their heads lying in an eastern direction, with some exceptions, where one skeleton would be lying across another. The bones were in a lying position, having never been disturbed since interment - although the plow has for years thrown up human bones on the terrace of this mound in great abundance. The length of time that has evidently clasped since burial, had corroded most of the bones, so that they crumbled under the hand and exposure to air; yet, with great care, a cranium was extracted from its bed that preserved sufficient consistency to show its from, and prove the fact of its aboriginal origin. It was indisputably the compressed skull of a Flat Head Indian, or one whose head, in infancy, had undergone the compressing process. The forehead was wide and lofty, and the compression had taken effect chiefly on the back part of the head, bending the scull over with a short curve, which could be distinctly traced in the circular line which such a compression would naturally make.
The skeletons, seen in position, were those of common size, one or two exhibiting a length of bone that may have belonged to a person six feet in height.
Near the center of the parallelogram of the foundation mound, there is an appearance of what has been supposed to have been a covered way from the base of the mound (perhaps from the fosse) nearly to the center. It is now grown up with trees, and has the appearance of a deep gulf worn by the water. Gentlemen who examined this chasm twenty years since, were firm in the belief that it had been a subterranean passage. The longer chasm from the north side of the mound, is approached by a similar one, although shorter, from the southern side.