For hundreds of years, travelers have visited the communal gathering space at Winterville Mounds. Journey to Winterville and explore one of the largest Native American mound sites in the United States.
This National Historic Landmark features twelve prehistoric Native American mounds and two large plazas.
- The historic grounds are open to the public. The Visitor Center and Museum is closed for future renovation.
- Discover the stories of the people who built these great earthworks.
- Enjoy a picnic on the grounds or under the pavilion.
For thousands of years, travelers have visited the communal gathering space at Winterville Mounds. Journey to Winterville and explore one of the largest Native American mound sites in the United States. The Native American mounds at Winterville were hand built by a civilization that thrived from about AD 1000 to 1450. Winterville was a gathering place—a site for sacred ceremonies—and originally contained at least 23 mounds.
The people who built these great earthworks at Winterville were ancestors of the Chickasaws, Choctaws, and other tribes we know today. Discover the stories of the people who lived here through the mysterious clues they left behind.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the Indians who used the Winterville Mounds may have had a civilization similar to that of the Natchez Indians, a Mississippi tribe documented by French explorers and settlers in the early 1700s. The Natchez Indians’ society was divided into upper and lower ranks, with a person’s social rank determined by heredity through the female line. The chief and other tribal officials inherited their positions as members of the royal family. The elaborate leadership network made mound building by a civilian labor force possible.
An explosion of mound construction activity between AD 1200 and 1350 suggests the Winterville chiefdom was a dominant power in the region then. Varieties of pottery indicate contact with far-distant chiefdoms.
The people who were responsible for these great earthworks were American Indians, but not Chickasaws, Choctaws, or other tribes we know today. Construction of the mounds at Winterville began about AD 1100, a time when the population was organized in chiefdoms instead of tribes. Many of these chiefdoms were destroyed after the expedition of Hernando de Soto passed through in 1539–43, presumably by European diseases to which the native population had no immunity. The remnants of these groups banded together, creating the contemporary tribes.
Massive amounts of labor were needed to construct these mounds, plazas, and other earthworks. All the work was done by hand. Dirt was dug and loaded into baskets, then carried to the site, dumped out, and stamped down. This process was repeated until the desired shape and height was reached. Each mound was enlarged several times after its initial construction using this method. It seems to have been common practice to burn any structure at its summit before enlarging a mound and then build another structure when new construction was completed.
At 55 feet, Mound A is among the ten tallest in the United States, roughly the same height as a five-story building. Until modern construction techniques were developed, it was the highest point between Emerald Mound in Natchez and the great mounds at Cahokia, Illinois. From its top you can see the Mississippi River to the west. The river’s course has shifted over the centuries but it was only a mile away when the mounds were constructed.
At about 30 feet, Mound B is the second-tallest mound at Winterville and sits at the southwest end of the mound group. It has also proven one of the richest sources for information over the last hundred years. Mound B probably was the site of a charnel house, a structure where bones of the dead were cleaned of flesh and stored in baskets. It may be that important leaders or other members of the Winterville elite were buried at their death, at which time the stored bones in the charnel house would be interred along with them.
Mound C is one of three (along with Mounds G and L) with an oval shape rather than the more commonly found round or quadrilateral shape. The mound’s present shape is due to slumping and erosion. No burials have been encountered in excavations there. The discovery of an assortment of unusual artifacts and repeating destruction of the structures atop it point to its use as the residence of an elite family.
Mounds D and F are part of the western border of the site. Mound D was constructed on an earlier, pre-mound occupation deposit dating to the end of the Coles Creek period (AD 1000–1200). In 2007, University of Southern Mississippi excavations uncovered a trash-filled pit near Mound D containing layers of bone (squirrel, rabbit, waterfowl, and other birds) and broken pottery that date to about AD 1200. The pit may have been excavated to provide materials to form Mound D, and the layers of trash may represent feasts associated with its construction.
A great fire during the late 1300s consumed the original building on the Temple Mound at Winterville, according to archaeological evidence. The cause of the fire remains a mystery. The site continued to be used afterwards, but no more mounds were built or maintained. Even though the site continued to be occupied after the fire, the general population declined at Winterville while increasing at settlements and mound sites 50 miles to the south, in the lower Yazoo River basin. By AD 1450, the Winterville Mounds site appears to have been abandoned completely.