Heart of Louisiana: Watson Brake

Updated: Jun. 23, 2020 at 9:33 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (WVUE) - It’s a complex of ancient mounds hidden in the woods of North Louisiana south of Monroe known as “Watson Brake”. Since much of the site is on private property, it’s not a place you can visit.

We walked about a half mile through the woods as the trail blended with the raw forest.

Footsteps echo through the green canopy of leaves as steps are made on ground where ancient people lived thousands of years ago.

“They were hunters, fishers and gatherers,” says Dr. Diana Greenlee.

Dr. Greenlee is an archaeologist and professor at the University of Monroe who navigates one of the oldest complexes of ancient mounds in America.

This is kind of the big, great granddaddy of them all.

“So far that’s what it would appear. There are some that are older but this is really complex and really just pretty amazing,” says Dr. Greenlee.

Through the trees you finally see the shape of the largest mound rising from the forest floor. It’s a massive amount of dirt that stands 25 feet tall.

“It looks like they started construction around 5400 years ago and they would have stopped sometime around 4800 years ago.”

That means these structures were built before the great pyramids and Stonehenge.

The large mound is among eleven man made mounds connected by an oval shaped ridge.

The Watson Brake site was first reported to archaeologists in the early 1980s by a local resident who noticed the earthworks after the land was cleared of timber. Some of the mounds only rise a few feet but others dominate the landscape. But why these mounds were built remains a mystery.

“It could be that it was a way to reinforce relationships and cooperation. It could be signaling to other people that, you know, hey, we have the resources and the people that we can build cool stuff like this. You should cooperate with us.”

There is no public access to the mound site. The state has been able to acquire some of the area but half of it is still privately owned.

Researchers believe that ancient people occupied the site off an on for a period of several hundred years. Some middle-archaic artifacts have been found there.

“There are distinctive projectile points, spear or dark points called Evans points. They have a distinctive notch. We have free Earth blocks or cubes. So these are undecorated. They’re made of the dirt that’s been fired.”

Do you ever think about what life was like for these folks 4000 or 5000 years ago?

“Yeah, I do. They’re together with their family group, you know, and other groups whether they’re here all the time together or whether they’re just getting together once in a while. But I can imagine that they saw that as a fun time and they’re working together on a project.”

Watson Brake is on of more than 800 mound sites that have been discovered around Louisiana. It shows how people built a large place to live together as they hunted and fished and lived off the land.

The Watson Brake Mound Complex is located about 60 miles from the Poverty Point World Heritage Site in Northwest Louisiana. Poverty Point is more than three times larger but Watson Brake is 2000 years older.

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