Heart of Louisiana: Watson Brake

It’s a complex of ancient mounds, hidden in the woods of north Louisiana, south of Monroe known as “Watson Brake."
Published: Sep. 11, 2022 at 4:22 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 11, 2022 at 11:14 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It’s a complex of ancient mounds, hidden in the woods of north Louisiana, south of Monroe known as “Watson Brake.”

We walked about a half mile through the woods as the trail blended with the raw forest. Our footsteps echoed through the green canopy of leaves. We were stepping on the ground where ancient people lived thousands of years ago.

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

Dr. Diana Greenlee, an archeologist, and professor at University of Louisiana Monroe leads me to one of the oldest complexes of ancient mounds in America.

This is kind of the big, great granddaddy of them all, right?

“So far that’s what would appear. I mean, there are some that are older, but this is really complex and really just pretty amazing,” Greenlee said.

Through the trees, we 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 5,400 years ago and they would have stopped sometime around 4,800 years ago,” Greenlee said.

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

This large mound is among eleven man-made mounds, connected by an oval-shaped ridge. The Watson Brake site was first reported to archeologists in the early 1980′s 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 we have the resources and the people that we can build, cool stuff like this. So you should cooperate with us, said Greenlee.

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

Researchers believe that ancient people occupied this site, off and on, for a period of several hundred years. Some middle-archaic artifacts have been found here.

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

Do you ever think about what life was like for these folks four or 5,000 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,” Greenlee said.

Watson Brake is one 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.

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