Sunday, September 27, 2020


Ancient earthen mounds exist worldwide. Known as "barrows" in England, "kurgans" in Turkey and Russia, and "tumuli" in many parts of the world, earthen mounds are known from:

  • Sweden (Gamla Upsalla, 2,000 tumuli)
  • Austria (Sulm Valley Necropolis, 2,000 tumuli)
  • Hungary (Great Hungarian Plain, 40,000 tumuli)
  • Mali (Gorbi Valley, hundreds of tumuli)
  • Japan (Kofun Keyhole Mounds, 161,000 tumuli
  • Uruguay (Cerritos de Indios, 3,000 tumuli)
Some are very large. The tomb of King Alyattes (ca. 619 - 560 BC) at Bin Tepe in modern Turkey has a diameter of 360 meters and is 61 meters high. This makes it over twice as large as the biggest mound in the Mississippi drainage basin (Monks Mound, Cahokia). About 1,000 tumuli are known from the Bin Tepe necropolis and tens of thousands more are found throughout modern Greece, North Macedonia, and Turkey. The Russian steppes contain thousands of burial mounds.
Tomb of King Alyattes, Bin Tepe, Turkey

Earthen mounds are such basic structures they were built by people with relatively low levels of cultural attainment. Case in point: the Aborigines built clusters of tumuli at 10 sites in northern Australia. See Sally Brockwell, "Earth Mounds in Northern Australia: A Review" in Australian Archaeology 63:1 (December, 2006).

Limited numbers of people were capable of moving large amounts of dirt. For example, the population of Cahokia in modern Illinois at apogee (ca. AD 1100) is generally estimated at between 15,000 and 50,000 (ancient population estimates are notoriously difficult to determine precisely). This was the largest urbanization north of Mexico in pre-Columbian times. Over a 300 year period (ca. AD 1050 - 1350), this group built the 120 - 190 mounds (reports vary) that made up ancient Cahokia, including 700,000 cubic meter Monks Mound as the centerpiece.

Drone View of Monks Mound, Cahokia Overlooking the Mississippi

Recent research indicates Monks Mound was built in about 20 years. See this article by the Archaeological Conservancy. Most experts believe the mounds were built by people carrying baskets of dirt. As a quick reality check, I created a spreadsheet with 3 variables:

  1. Number of people (1,000 - 5,000) carrying baskets of dirt.
  2. Size of the baskets (1 gallon = 12 pounds, 3 gallons = 36 pounds of dirt).
  3. Number of trips per day (1 or 2) from the borrow pits to the mound.
This is the spreadsheet. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.

Analysis of Time Required to Build Monks Mound, Cahokia

If 1,000 people made 1 trip per day carrying a 1 gallon (12 pound) basket of dirt, it would have taken 451 years to build Monks Mound. If 5,000 people made 2 trips per day carrying a 3 gallon (36 pound) basket of dirt, they could have built Monks Mound in 15 years. 

A modern earthen mound exists in American Fork, Utah, in my backyard. At 16 feet long X 12 feet wide X 8 feet tall, it is large enough to show up on Google Earth. I built it in one day with picks and shovels, assisted by two strong helpers. A landscaper with a Bobcat moved it a few years ago to its present location. My children, grandchildren, and two generations of neighborhood kids have all played on our backyard "hill."

Red Arrow Indicates Mound in American Fork, UT per Google Earth

An irrational faction within the Church tries unsuccessfully to identify the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites as the North American Adena and Hopewell mound builders. This notion is utter nonsense. I have visited dozens of mounds in the US including Grave Creek (Adena), Marietta (Hopewell), Newark (Hopewell), Mound City (Hopewell), and Miamisburg (Adena). I have visited my personal favorite, Serpent Mound (Adena, Fort Ancient), several times as I have been in the greater Cincinnati area on business. I have spent time in the Ohio History Connection Museum in Columbus learning about Adena and Hopewell lifeways. There is nothing I have seen in American mound builder culture that rises to the level of the sophisticated civilizations described in the Book of Mormon. (See the blog article "State Level Society"). I have seen no evidence in the Mississippi River drainage basin of the population sizes or densities described in the Nephite text. (See the blog articles "Prophecy Fulfilled 010" and "LiDAR."

Ancient peoples heaped up dirt. With modest populations, they heaped up lots of dirt. Low-skilled cultures heaped up dirt. Artificial mortuary hillocks are found worldwide. Earthen mounds do not an advanced civilization make. The Book of Mormon more than 20 times describes elegant and spacious "buildings" Mosiah 11:8, Ether 10:5. Mounds, barrows, kurgans, or tumuli are not what the Nephite scribes were talking about.