The Robinson LibraryTHE ROBINSON LIBRARY
The Robinson Library >> American History >> Indians of North America >> General History
Spiro Mounds

the only Native American archaeological site in Oklahoma that is open to the public

main group of mounds

Located about seven miles outside Spiro, Oklahoma, the Spiro Mounds site encompasses 150 acres of land that includes twelve mounds, an elite village area, and part of a support city.

location of Spiro Mounds

The main group of six mounds forms a circular grouping around an oval plaza on the western side of the site. Another group is found about a quarter mile to the east. The largest mound on the site, known as "Brown Mound," slopes steeply on three sides, and once had a walkway up the southern side leading to a building at the top. That building may have been used as a mortuary house, where the dead were prepared for burial. "Spiro Mound," the second-largest on the site, sits about 1,500 feet southeast of the main plaza. It is significant for a cavity inside that is about 10 feet high and 15 feet wide, and which once held artifacts made of wood, conch shell and copper, as well as baskets, woven fabrics, lace, furs, and even feathers, all remarkably well preserved. More than twenty other related village sites are scattered within a five-mile radius of the main site.

reproduction of one of the Spiro Mound mortuary buildings
reproduction of one of the Spiro Mound mortuary buildings

The Spiro Mounds site was occupied by various groups over a span of 8,000 years, but was not permanently occupied until 850 A.D. At that time Spiro became the westernmost outpost of Mississippian culture, which influenced an area from the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Mexico and Virginia to the Great Lakes. Native Americans within this extensive area were linked primarily by trade. Lying on a major river (the Arkansas) and located near the center of this trade network, Spiro became an important site for the exchange of trade goods. Wealth derived from this trade allowed Spiro chiefs to directly control the religious and political life of villages several hundred miles away, into present-day Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.

map of principal Mississippian cultures
map of principal Mississippian cultures

For reasons as yet unknown, the mound center of Spiro had been abandoned by about 1450, although the support city was occupied into the early 1700's. The site lay undisturbed for over 200 years, until being discovered and plundered by treasure hunters in the 1930's. Many artifacts and skeletal remains were destroyed, many others were carted off and sold, and at least one burial chamber was actually dynamited, before Oklahoma declared the site an archaeological treasure and saved it from utter destruction. The University of Oklahoma led WPA workers on a controlled excavation in 1936, and the Oklahoma Historical Society created the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center in 1978.

picture of one of the mounds as it looked in the 1930s
picture of one of the mounds as it looked in the 1930s

SOURCES
Oklahoma Archaeological Survey www.ou.edu/cas/archsur/counties/leflore.htm
Oklahoma Historical Society www.okhistory.org/outreach/museums/spiromounds.html

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> American History >> Indians of North America >> General History

This page was last updated on 06/26/2017.