The Poverty Point Historic Site is widely considered the most impressive site of the Poverty Point Culture, which was located in the lower Mississippi River valley during the Late Archaic period (2000-500 BCE). While archaeologists have yet to determine the original purposes of the site, many have hypothesized that the site was used as a settlement, a trading center, and/or a ceremonial religious center. Evidence that this site was used as a trading center includes the presence of sandstone, magnetite, and other types of rocks that would have had to have been transported hundreds of miles to end up at Poverty Point. The site is notable because of the massive earthworks constructed there, which includes six mounds; six concentric, circular ridges, and a large plaza.
Of the six mounds at the Poverty Point Historic Site, Mound A is the largest by far. Mound A stands 72 feet tall and is 710 feet long and 660 feet wide. Mound A is far and away the most impressive mound on site both because of its size and how quickly it was constructed. In fact, the construction of Mound A required 238,500 cubic meters of soil, which is roughly equivalent to 31,200 dump trucks full of soil! Most archaeologists estimate that it would have taken decades to construct such a mound by hand. However, evidence from excavations from the site show that it took no more than 90 days to complete the construction of Mound A. This indicates that there were thousands of laborers involves in Mound A's construction, and it challenges previously-held ideas about the complexity of the site's occupants.
The findings at Poverty Point are of particular historical and anthropological significance because it has caused anthropologists to reconsider how complex the Poverty Point Culture may have been. Typically, hunter-gatherer societies such as the Poverty Point Culture are characterized by limited complexity, a lack of leadership, and social equality. The construction of massive architecture, like Mound A, often indicates that there are some levels of leadership, organization, and social inequality present in a society. Archaeologists have theorized that the construction of the mounds was motivated by religious ritual. This is indicative of a sophisticated religion, which is not a characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies. The findings at Poverty Point forces researchers to reassess the social organization of hunter-gatherers as well as their socio-economic and socio-political complexity.
Because of the historical value the Poverty Point Historic Site offers, there have been many calls to protect the area over the years. In 1962, the site given National Historic Landmark status. This was meant to recognize the site's historical significance. In 1988, Congress passed a law declaring the Poverty Point Site a U.S. National Monument. This added the site to the list of areas protect by the National Park Service. In 2014, Poverty Point was given the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This made Poverty Point the fourth archaeological site in the United States to receive such a distinction.
1988 law declaring Poverty Point a U.S National Monument