The mound builders myth primarily refers to the interpretations that emerged in the 19 th
century to explain the existing mounds and enclosures found in eastern North America. The
discovery of mounds represents the lost civilization closely associated with the cultures of
American Indian inhabitants who occupied the region before Europeans entered the fray. This
myth is fundamentally inclined to the perception of contrasting scales of organization and
sophistication of ancient architecture that provide evidence that they were abandoned for several
centuries, which sets the initial question, who build the structures? This question invited
archaeologists, anthropologists, and scientific researchers to interrogate the origin of such unique
synthetic features. The richness of the evidence drawn indicates that native inhabitants of the
region were a race of sophisticated people. Now, the builders were a lost race because it could
not be Americans. This dilemma inspired the emergence of the mound builders myth. The main
precepts of this myth encompass political organization, economic sustainability, moral traditions,
political organization, the pursuit of arts, and the pursuit of knowledge. However, because
European settlers could not credit Native Americans with the construction of such incredible
organization and intelligent architecture, the narrative of mound builders emerged to place the
distinction between the early Americans and Native Americans.
The first significant element of the mound builders myth encompasses America's first
civilization that was fundamental in promoting culture creation. However, due to the lack of a
written language, historians rely on archaeological evidence to determine the political
organization of ancient mound builders and establish the relationships between the community
and others. The political structure was developed along with villages. The construction of such
massive architecture required huge input of labor and resources, including food, housing, and
clothing. Therefore, it would be increasingly challenging to install such a cohesive social order
without some form of political organization.
The second prominent element of the mound builders myth entails the economic
provisions for sustaining the livelihoods of the community. Available evidence suggests that
mound builders had an astounding commercial network. Concrete evidence is derived from salt-
water seashells in the inland sites. Besides, beryl was found at the Tennessee site. Researchers
also found traces of copper from Georgia in the Minnesota site. All this evidence gathered points
at the participation in intricate economic engagements for community provision.
Besides political and economic organization, the third element that cements the mound
builders myth encompasses moral traditions. In the investigative course, participants establish a
profound trend of cultural continuity that was particularly instrumental in the development of
American culture, as demonstrated by their mounds (Lepper 171). This feature is closely
associated with the growth of the fourth element that encompasses the pursuit of arts.
Archaeological evidence suggests that mound builders provide a resourceful input to the
development of various arts, including pottery, carving, basketry, and intricate weaving that
inspired the development of American-Indian pre-Columbian art.
Lastly, the fifth element of the pursuit of knowledge demonstrates the role of mound
builders to develop and disseminate various technical approaches that enhanced their lives. The
knowledge about hunting, pottery, and agriculture provided means of sustaining the day-to-day
life of the society. For instance, this race domesticated a variety of crops and herbs that
contributed to their diet. Besides, there is evidence that the construction of many mounds was
informed astronomical observations. For instance, the Ceremonial complex was inspired by the
northernmost rise of the moon.
American geologist John Wesley Powell and archaeologist Cyrus Thomas play a critical
role in debunking the mound builders myth. Powell conducts explorative studies along River
Colorado that inform his conclusion of the Native Americans as a racially inferior group. The
majority of his ethnographic studies on Native American societies are meant to empower the
Native American tribes besides providing a crucial reference for the government on decisions
about Native Americans. Cyrus Thomas provides crucial insights that demystify the myth about
mound builders that provide evidence that the ancestors of Native Americans build the mounds.
In his entomological and ethnographic works, Thomas addressed five incorrect
assumptions that informed non-believers perceptions about a lost race. In his first address,
Thomas challenges the misconception that Indian culture was primitive. Thomas uses
indisputable facts such as the civilization of the American Southwest during the 16 th century
(Timmerman 83). These cultures were mainly sedentary and agricultural, with people living in
large population areas. The non-believers held it that this was a requirement of the missing race.
However, he provides useful evidence that Indians were practically and culturally in a position of
constructing the mounds.
The second misconception Thomas responds to is the notion that the mounds were older
than the Indian culture. In response, Thomas disagrees with proponents of this theory and
challenges the findings of radiometric dating because of the tree-ring counts. The third claim he
addresses in the notion that alphabetically inscribed tablets were found in the mounds. Upon
investigation, Thomas reveals that the tablet was faked and had been recently placed, as they
comprised several words from the dictionary.
Thomas's input in debunking the myth of a missing race addresses the fourth claim that
Indians did not have the slightest knowledge of who built the mounds, nor did they witness their
construction. In his remarks, Thomas explains that this statement was deceitful as there was
evidence from European explorers who mentioned the creation of mounds in their expeditions
(Timmerman 90). He explains that De Soto, Bartram, and French travelers claimed to have
witnessed the construction of the piles. According to Thomas, there was sufficient evidence that
indeed the Indians built and used the mounds.
Lastly, to demystify the myth about mound builders, Thomas launches a scathing attack
on the fifth misconception about the lost race that suggested that the metal objects found in the
mounds were beyond the metallurgical skills of the Indian culture. After conducting a thorough
evaluation of the artifacts, Thomas disregards the claims for lack of concrete evidence to back
their position. Instead, he pointed out that the copper artifacts were enough evidence of concrete
To conclude, it can be said that a comprehensive analysis of the artifacts provides crucial
evidence that is useful to debunk a conspiracy myth about mound builders. This analysis forms
the basis of a massive campaign to dispel the misconception that the architects of the unique
architecture are a lost race. From every ounce of evidence, it is convincing that the Native
Americans constructed and used the mounds. Following the massive adoption of Thomas'
conclusion that dispelled the myth of a lost race, European settlers began to destroy such
valuable evidence of intelligent civilization simply because they could not accept that Native
Americans were capable of building such magnificent architecture. Despite evidence presenting
Native Americans as the architects of the mounds, the result is unfair because crucial evidence
Brown, J. A. "North American mound builders: Hopewell, Natchez, Cahokia." Encyclopedia of
Global Archaeology, 2014, pp. 5390-5395, doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_1659.
Lepper, B. T. "American antiquities: Revisiting the origins of American archaeology. Terry
A.Barnhart. Lincoln: University of Nebraska press, 2016. 572 pp." Museum
Anthropology, vol. 40, no. 2, 2017, pp. 170-172, doi:10.1111/muan.12150.
Timmerman, N. A. "Contested Indigenous landscapes: Indian mounds and the political creation
of the mythical "Mound builder" race." Ethnohistory, vol. 67, no. 1, 2020, pp. 75-95,