Focused on Mississippi: Winterville Mounds


GREENVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – We wouldn’t have had the original Thanksgiving without Native Americans. However, this story is based before the time of the Pilgrims and before the time of Christopher Columbus.

“We had magnificent cities here,” said Mark Howell. He is the director of Winterville Mounds. “This was probably the most populated area north of Mexico before the time of Columbus. So if you wanted to make something of yourself, this is where you came.”

The Winterville Indian Mound Complex is located north of Greenville. A thousand years ago up until about 500 years ago, there was a sophisticated culture in the eastern United States, particularly in the southeast. Historians know the culture was sophisticated because of the myriad of mounds they left. There would have to have been a complex social structure to free up enough people to build the mounds.

About 500 years ago, the whole social order fell apart. “We often blame the European explorers who showed up about the time of the demise of the last mound builders, which Winterville represents,” explained Howell. “But this civilization was already in decline.”

A mini-ice age set in around 1300 and shook confidence in the priests or rulers who had always been believed to be the providers of abundant crops. When it got colder, the crops failed, and the society failed. Today, we have the mounds reminding us of where one of the most successful cultures ever in North America once had a settlement.

“Well, it’s the biggest pre-Columbus site in Mississippi and one of the biggest in the United States,” said Howell. “Vibrant civilization, vibrant city, dynamic place in what is now one of the most impoverished areas of the United States.”

Howell said they have cleared brush and trees from the plaza and mounds so the area looks more like it looked when the mounds were in use.

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