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
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
The following paragraph
is contributed by
Jim Barnett, Director
Division of Historic
of Archives and History
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
shifted to the Grand
Village/Fatherland site. We may never know what caused the shift.
For whatever reason, Emerald was abandoned during the French colonial period
and the tribe's hereditary chief, the Great Sun, lived at the Grand Village.
The people of the tribe continued to followed a widely dispersed settlement
pattern, living on family farms. They assembled at the ceremonial
centers periodically for religious and social events. Unlike many
mounds, the village ceremonial center was located on top of Emerald Mound.
This mound was used for ceremonies, rather than as burial ground.
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
28th of May, a large company of gentlemen, about twenty-five in number,
repaired to the great mounds in Selsertown.
The following exerpt appeared in Prairie and Rocky Mountain Adventures,
or, Life In The West, by John C. Van Tramp; Published by Segner
and Condit., Columbus, OH, 1870. Private individuals may download
the file for personal non-commercial use only.
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.
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.
magnitude of the mound is such that its relative heights do not at first
impress the visitor with their full proportions; but, after a struggel
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 gregular
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 centre. 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 frim 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.