Poverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City

By Jenny Ellerbe and Diana M. Greenlee

(Louisiana State University Press, 2015; 144 pgs., illus., $40 cloth; www.lsupress.org)

Poverty Point in northeastern Louisiana was the largest and most complex settlement in the long Archaic period of American human occupation. During its heyday between 1700 and 1100 B.C. it was the largest city in North America. Generally, people of the Archaic period did not live in cities or even large settlements. They were hunter-gatherers who had no agriculture to support a large population. Yet at Poverty Point they built at least six large earthen mounds and six miles of earthen ridges arranged in six concentric semi-circles that supported their homes. They traded with Native people hundreds of miles away, and their culture influenced many others. Today, Poverty Point is a 345-acre state park, and in 2014 it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In this delightful, compact volume, the authors explore, explain, and celebrate this great ancient place. Jenny Ellerbe is a fine art photographer who focuses on northeastern Louisiana. Diana Greenlee is the station archaeologist at Poverty Point. They first got together in 2011 to perfect the World Heritage Site nomination. The book is superbly illustrated with 58 halftones, 38 color photos, 16 maps, and three charts. Ellerbe provides an artist’s impression of the site, while Greenlee introduces the reader to its archaeological features and artifacts. The history of archaeological research at Poverty Point began with C.B. Moore in 1913 and continues today, and modern technologies of remote sensing, pollen analysis, and soil science are described in laymen’s terms. The remarkable new aerial mapping technology known as LiDAR is used to illustrate the layout and features of the site.

Since Poverty Point is located on the alluvium of the Mississippi River delta, there is no local stone. Trade brought in stone for many tools, but people also adapted by producing thousands of fired clay balls, known as Poverty Point Objects, for cooking and other domestic uses. They are a signature artifact of the site, appealing to both the artist and the scientist. There are also many decorative objects: beads, pendants, figurines, and pipes.

Poverty Point is an amazing archaeological site, and this volume is a wonderful description of it as art and archaeology. Everyone interested in American archaeology is sure to delight in this new book.

Read all our current Book Reviews online and in our Winter 2015 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 19 No. 4

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