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Mysteries Surround West Virginia Mounds

June 21, 2008
The area that is now West Virginia was primarily a hunting ground of the early Native Americans. The early European settlers discovered several man-made earthen mounds all throughout West Virginia.

The largest concentration of them was found in the areas of Greater Charleston, Moundsville and the Eastern Panhandle of this state. While little is known about this early civilization in North America, the artifacts uncovered from these man-made earthworks gives evidence of a very complex culture that was once on the North American Continent.

The term “mound builders” is applied to a prehistoric race spanning about 2,000 years (1000 BC to 1000 AD). The first group of these people was the Adena people. We know little about how or why the mounds were built, but most historians agree that the Early Americans built the mounds for their honored dead.

The Adena Mounds ranged in size from about 25 feet to 250 feet in diameter. These people lived in an area making up most of Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania and New York.

They had to have well-organized societies because the construction of these earthworks required a large amount of labor and time. Large volumes of earth had to be moved, and it could only be moved by hand.

The Grave Creek Mound located in Moundsville is considered the largest conical mound in the United States. This mound originally stood nearly 70 feet high and was about 250 feet in diameter. From testing the soil, archaeologists estimate the mound was built between 250 BC and 150 BC by the Adena People.

The Criel Mound is located in the heart of South Charleston. It is the second largest mound in the state. This mound originally stood about 35 feet high with a diameter of about 175 feet. The exact age of this mound is unknown, but archaeologists believe it dates to the time of the Grave Creek Mound.

The Criel Mound was excavated by Professor P. W. Norris from the Smithsonian Institute in 1883-1884. What was found is considered the most bizarre of any mound excavation in the United States. At a depth of 3 feet in the center of the shaft, some human bones were discovered. They had to be part of a skeleton that may have been uncovered before the documented excavation. At a depth of 4 feet in a bed of hard earth composed of mixed clay were two skeletons lying of their backs, heads south and feet near the center of the shaft.

At a depth of about 30 feet, numerous other skeletons were found, along with a burial vault containing the remains of 11 Native Americans. There is evidence that some of them may have been buried alive. In the center of the vault was a skeleton that was well over 6 feet long. Today, all of the skeletal remains and other artifacts found in this excavation are maintained by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

The South Charleston Mound was one of about 50 mounds located in Charleston, Dunbar, South Charleston and St. Albans. Most of them were destroyed with the development of the Kanawha Valley, but the Shawnee Mound located at Institute and the Small Wilson Mound located in a private cemetery in South Charleston has survived.

The grade school I attended in Dunbar was called Mound Elementary because it was built near one of the more than 20 mounds located in this town.

Indian Mound Cemetery is located along U.S. 50 overlooking the South Branch of the Potomac River in Romney. This cemetery is centered around a small mound about 7 feet high with a diameter of about 15 feet.

It is the largest of the remaining mounds in the West Virginia Panhandle. The original owner of the mound gave the site to the city of Romney on the condition that the mound would never be disturbed.

This is the reason this mound has never been excavated. The Smithsonian Institute believes this mound was built by the peoples of the Hopewell Culture.

In Randolph County, a mound located near Elkwater was excavated about 50 years ago. What was found in this excavation can be seen on the historical sign located on U.S. 219.

From 1975 to 1983, I rented a 58-acre farm from a lady who had grown up in this location.

She informed me there was an Indian mound on the acreage. Her father would not let anyone disturb it and she had forgotten where the mound was located when I rented the property.

On a clear day in early spring, I think I found the location where the mound might be. She told me that she would not object if I went to digging into the possible location. One day when I didn’t have anything better to do, I started digging in the top with a large shovel. I got down about 18 inches and quickly realized this was not the proper way to do archaeological studies. I quickly gave up on the idea of digging into a prehistoric mound.

I don’t know who owns this acreage now, but this may be one mound yet to be excavated.



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