Post and stone circles – everywhere

These barrels mark the places where a massive timber circle once stood. Just like timber and stone circles all over the UK, Ireland and Western Europe. But where is it?

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So where is the plaza with this familiar form of monument? Louisiana. USA. Constructed by hunter gatherer fishers amid their mounds and massive earth works (note the scale on the plan below!), the Poverty Point culture never farmed.

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Plan of the earthworks, mounds and post circles at the World Heritage Site of Poverty Point, Louisiana. Image (c) Lynne Kelly.

The Poverty Point Site consists of massive earthworks built  3,400 years ago: five mounds shown around six C-shaped ridges enclosing a huge plaza. Within the plaza, 25 – 30 timber circles were built, but were not all standing at the same time. Like all knowledge sites, it was constantly changed.

The geometric design of Poverty Point is unique – there is nothing like it anywhere else. It is a masterpiece. When constructed, the Poverty Point earthworks were the largest in North America, the major political, trading and ceremonial centre of its day.

Why did people in America’s southeast build monuments so reminiscent of those built by Neolithic cultures in the UK, Ireland and Western Europe?

Because this is the best way to create the necessary memory spaces if an oral culture is to settle and replicate a knowledge system once based in the broad landscape.

The image of the barrels marking the post circle from Jenny Ellerbe can be found on the Poverty Point World Heritage Initiative document which can be downloaded from the site – just click on the image below. The plan of the site has been adapted from that document as well.

poverty-point-websiteIt wasn’t only in Louisiana that post circles were built by Native Americans. One circle which has been reconstructed is in Illinois, at the mound building site of Cahokia. The ancient Native American city was active long after Poverty Point, from about 600 to 1400 AD. Archaeologists even name the timber circle Woodhenge after a wooden post circle in Wiltshire, England.

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Woodhenge: The reconstructed post circle at Cahokia, southern Illinois.

The oral cultures in North America and the European Neolithic were so far apart in both space and time that they almost certainly had no contact with each other. It is no coincidence that they used very similar structures at the ceremonial sites. These are practical monuments which served a very practical purpose. They are memory spaces used to aid memory of all the practical, scientific, historic and spiritual knowledge of the culture.

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This entry was posted in archaeology, art of memory, indigenous memory systems, memory, Memory Spaces, method of loci, mnemonics, orality, post circles, Poverty Point, primary orality, timber circles. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Post and stone circles – everywhere

  1. Jack Burgess says:

    Neat article…but “so far apart in space & time they could have had no contact”? Read, “The American Discovery of Europe,” or check online for dugouts, for instance, and evidence of travel considerable distances. Ocean streams from NW Europe lead to the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Stream takes things (even today) to NW Europe. Stonehenge was in use at least as late as 1800 BC and the structures in Louisiana sometime B.C.E. So, while we don’t have evidence of contact, we can’t dismiss it out of hand.

    • lynne says:

      I agree in theory, Jack, but find it very hard to argue any possible contact. The stage of Stonehenge which resembles the timber circles at Poverty Point in Louisiana, was built around 3000 BC. I thinkI would lose the support of the archaeologists who have endorsed my books if I claimed contact. It is so much more logical to claim that it is the way the human brain works which is the common factor. I shall be covering a lot more about that in my next book.

      But I do take your point. Maybe I should have said “so far apart in space and time that they almost certainly had no contact”. You are absolutely right on that point. I shall change it now, but leave this comment so you get credit!

      Thank you,

      Lynne

      • Jack says:

        Thanks Lynne. I worked for awhile in the field of arbitration and have some knowledge and experience with weighing evidence. In that field we generally looked for the “preponderance of the evidence” as the standard. In this case, the evidence may not all be in, as we are finding henges still in the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere. Currently, the preponderance of the evidence certainly finds no known contact. But some of us believe there was probably much more contact across the oceans than conservative archeologists are willing to consider. In the end, “separate invention” may be harder to prove than diffusion. I’m writing a short paper on this for the Midwestern Epigraphic Society. (See our FB page or website for other diffusionist material). Jack

        • lynne says:

          Thank you, Jack. This is certainly a fascinating idea. I have no doubt that we have greatly underestimated the achievements and intellect of non-literate cultures. All the best with your research!

          Lynne

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