The Builders of the Mounds
When the first explorers visited North America, they saw thousands of
mounds and earthworks throughout their travels. Some of these mounds
were built thousands of years before they found them and were abandoned,
and grown over, and others were actually still in use. This is a map
that was created in 1891 by the Smithsonian Institute (Cyrus Thomas was
the author of the work) and each orange dot represents ancient
earthworks that were recorded from the earliest times. I am grateful
that this project was undertaken as a way to try to preserve this info
for generations to come, because the majority of these sites have been
Again, the majority of these reported sites were only recorded by those
who were keeping some sort of journal and were interested enough to have
wrote about what they saw, and then tried to explain them with the best
information they had. Cyrus Thomas's job was to go weed through these
reports and to compile the most reliable ones into the map above.
Many times, these original "discoverers" mistakenly believed that these
structures were built by some other Europeans or culture other than the
Native Indians. Our own Spanish Hill was no exception to this:
The earliest description of Spanish Hill
known is that of Duke Rochefoucault de Liancourt, a French Traveler
in 1795, who enroute to Niagara from the French Azilium, saw the
hill and thus wrote of it:
"Near the confines of Pennsylvania a
mountain rises from the bank of the river Tioga (Chemung) in the
shape of a sugar loaf upon which are seen the remains of some
entrenchments. These the inhabitants call the Spanish Ramparts,
but I rather judge them to have been thrown up against the Indians
in the time of M. de Nonville. (M. de Nonville was another Frenchman
that had explored this region many years before Liancourt...) One
perpendicular breastwork is yet remaining which, though covered with
grass and bushes, plainly indicates that a parapet and a ditch have
been constructed here." (La Rochefoucald-Liancourt 1795:76-7)
Man-Made Versus Naturally
When we talk about Spanish Hill, we are not talking about a
man-made mound, but because of it's location on the Chemung River and
above the meeting of the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers, along with it's
steep sides and size, it was a valued location no doubt for many an
ancient traveler. Also - because we know there were embankments that
enclosed ten acres on it's top, we also know that it was used for an
extended amount of time by some culture as well. I have no doubt that
the top of that hill was manipulated to serve the people that used it,
yet - it still does not fall into the category of a man-made mound.
Man-made mounds were actually created by tons of dirt that were heaped by
the bucket-full from another "borrow pit" which may or may not be
located near the site of the man-made mound.
Interestingly, there are three "pits" drawn on this map of Spanish Hill
from the 30's that show that earth was most probably moved to manipulate
the ten acres they enclosed an top of this glacially formed mound as
Types of Man-Made Mounds
Man-made mounds are mounds that were made from the ground up and fall into four basic shapes or categories. Conical mounds, Effigy mounds, Temple Mounds and Geometric (usually linear) mounds.
Conical Mounds - look like pyramids except that they are rounded. They, just as the great pyramids, were built in honor of some special shaman or king, and are in fact burial sites for them as well.
Effigy Mounds - are shaped like animals and or spirits, and were believed to have ceremonial, navigational and calendar-like purposes. It is known that many of these align with the stars and could have been used to predict solstices, and even eclipses.
|Temple Mounds - were mounds that either were man-made or "truncated" natural hills. Structures (many times temples) were placed upon the flattened top and were considered to be "living spaces" for shamans or their leaders and their families.
||Geometric-Shaped Mounds - were usually circular, square, or linear in shape, and were thought to have alot of the same uses as the effigy mounds, but sometimes (like the Newark site above) were believed to be created together to build ceremonial & observatory inside large complexes.
To learn more about the people who built the mounds, use the following links: