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Mounds … on flood plains

24 May 2011

Len Saunders, SIS member and contributor (see www.stonehenge-info.org ) thought Silbury Hill was constructed in response to heavy rainfall and abnormal flooding of the Kennet Valley, a view that is repeated in an article at www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/were-mounds-originally-… but in this instance, on the other side of the pond. Flooding on the Mississippie flood plain is in the news at the moment, some levies being deliberately dismantiled to avoid the drowning of big urban centres such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The mounds of the South East of the US were generally associated with major rivers – and all these rivers were subject to seasonal flooding. The author asks – could the mounds originally have been built to provide a safe haven for villagers during flooding episodes – the question Len Saunders asked himself. Only later were they used to house temples and the abodes of the elite. In the process of time, and architectural tradition, mounds would have further developed – with or without flooding. The idea came to the author after he noticed that farmers erected their barns and farm buildings on raised heaps of dirt, from the 19th century onwards – in order to avoid seasonal flooding. However, the author then turns his attention to an archaeological site known as Watson Brake in Louisiana, on the floodplain of the Ouachita river. It consists of eleven mounds of varying height and date arranged in an oval – itself the shaped of a mound. Archaeologists were surprised at the C14 date for occupation of Watson Brake, between 4000 and 2800BC, more specifically in the period around 3500BC. This is very close to the date Len Saunders assigned the flooding event in England, and it is rather peculiar, in a way, that the American archaeologist was one Joe Saunders – a bit of a coincidence. He also interprested the mounds as a refuge for people around 3500-3000BC, as a result of a cycle of heavy rainfalls during that period of time. Quite fascinating that the two ideas merge in time and explanation.

While there is of course more to Watson Brake than just a safe haven, the actual functional use of a cluster of mounds is difficult to explain from an everyday perspective. The author fails to see the mound motif as perhaps having an origin in the sky – but he is aware that mounds were a global phenomenon. It is basic to Egyptian religion or myth, a mound of sand was in effect the holy of holies. Mounds were constructed right across Eurasia – over a long period of time. The author mentions American examples such as mounds of sea shells and day to day detritus constructed on islands off the coast of Georgia, and stone sun circles in Alberta which are contemporary the appearance of stone rings and circular earthen structures in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, the mound is a primary religious motif – but what does it represent?

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