Aztecs in North America?

Well not exactly… but these earthwork mounds sure seem to be some sort of natural homage to the Aztecs. As inspiring as it is reading my Anthro textbook for a midterm this week, and trust me I have read it about 8 times, I’m ready to share my newly discovered knowledge of the mound builders.


Cahokia mound site today
(Image courtesy of

The mound builders are a civilization of people said to have made these large earth work mounds all over Canada and the United States, separate from the Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations found further south. The mounds appear to be related to burial practices and are actually pretty darn detailed in terms of their layout. They don’t look like much to us now, and perhaps some can even deduce them to mere hills, but in their prime (1020 AD) they appear to have had a great significance to those who lived in these bustling Native cities.

What do the myths say?

The mound builders myth had a variety of different explanations for who these people were. Some assumptions were due to a romanticism of the ancient civilization, while other claims were sadly based off of racism towards Natives:

  1. They were European/African/Jewish/Egyptian peoples who had migrated years before Columbus and somehow constructed these mounds
  2. They were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel
  3. Aliens!
  4. They were some sort of “undiscovered” race not known to historians

So who were they actually?


Snake shaped mound
(Image courtesy of

Native people! Scholars now agree, after detailed examination of the over 200 mounds found throughout America and Canada, that these mounds were actual Native cities with a network of trade between other regions and a strong labour force ruled under a strict political and social system (I mean how else did they manage to build them?).

Cahokia, listed as the oldest mound, seems to have had a population of up to 16,000 people! I don’t remember learning about these incredibly advanced cities in my past history textbooks, and considering the racism that Natives have faced in the past, I think it’s nice to share their ancestors incredibly advanced cities with the world.

The people of the mounds were said to have important political and religious figures that directed the construction of the mounds. Religious ceremonies in relation to the layout of the mounds seem to suggest a class system composed of chiefs and religious leaders. Rituals seem to also be a common practice, and in some cases, passages connecting mounds hint at a religious pilgrimage!

Elaborate artifacts (shown at the bottom of this blog) have also been found including elaborate hunting gear like specialty spear tips and stone tools for tearing meat from the bone. Beautiful hand carved shells have also been found along with beads and agricultural tools.

Where did all the people go?

A lot of the Native people, once coming into contact with Europeans, died of smallpox, eventually abandoning these bustling cities to retreat back into nomadic lifestyles and smaller settlements. About 90% of the Native population was killed from foreign diseases, so wiping out an entire city that did not have immunity seems to be the most logical explanation.


A bustling city: Cahokia mound city layout
(Image courtesy of

Some cool facts….

  • When a significant individual died, he/she was buried in an important mound
  • These people conducted sacrifices to ensure their leaders were buried with guards and devout worshippers
  • Mounds can come in the shape of animals like snakes, bears and birds!
  • The mounds were built in a certain position according to how the sun set, which way was North etc etc.
  • Various metals can be found from around the United States at Cahokia, suggesting a trade network

Hand crafted shells found at the mound builder sites
(Image courtesy of

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