Pyramid Mound

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Pyramid Mound (12k14)
Pyramid Mound from north.jpg
View from the north
Pyramid Mound is located in Indiana
Pyramid Mound
Location Southern side of Wabash Avenue, southeast of central Vincennes[2]:1
Nearest city Vincennes, Indiana
Coordinates 38°40′14″N 87°30′22″W / 38.67056°N 87.50611°W / 38.67056; -87.50611Coordinates: 38°40′14″N 87°30′22″W / 38.67056°N 87.50611°W / 38.67056; -87.50611
Area 5 acres (2.0 ha)
Governing body State
NRHP Reference # 75000023[1]
Added to NRHP May 12, 1975

Pyramid Mound, designated 12k14, is a locally important archaeological site at the city of Vincennes in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Indiana. Located on the city's edge, this substantial loess hill bears evidence of prehistoric occupation, and it is a landmark to the city's contemporary residents.

Physical qualities[edit]

Pyramid Mound lies about 2 miles (3.2 km) southeast of downtown Vincennes, atop a terrace that is elevated above the river level. In the 1870s, the state geological survey referred to the mound, describing it as measuring 47 feet (14 m) high, 150 feet (46 m) from north to south, and 300 feet (91 m) from east to west. Rather than rising to a point, the mound at that time was topped by a flat area approximately 50 feet (15 m) by 15 feet (4.6 m). By the 1970s, the mound was covered with smaller plants, but it had nevertheless experienced substantial erosion, due in part to motorcyclists who frequently drove over it.[2]:2 Small-scale additional damage has been done by local residents who have used the mound as a picnic ground. Railroad ties have been placed on the mound's side in order to form a path and reduce erosion by those walking elsewhere on the side.[3]

Archaeological work[edit]

A survey conducted by the Smithsonian Institution and published in 1874 reported that small-scale archaeological excavation had taken place near the top of the mound. The excavators found several buried human bodies, two or three projectile points, and a single piece of Late Woodland pottery resembling that of the Yankeetown culture, which was centered near Newburgh on the Ohio River. Despite this discovery, some archaeologists suggested that the mound had been built by the later Mississippian culture, which often constructed flat-topped mounds;[2]:3 later studies have demonstrated that the surrounding region was the homeland of a Mississippian group of people known as the Vincennes culture.[4]

Based upon the published results of the 1874 Smithsonian survey, an amateur antiquarian writing in the 1890s remarked on the relationship of Pyramid Mound to larger archaeological sites in the east central United States. Besides proposing that it was related to the large geometric earthworks that the Hopewell built in Ohio, he suggested that Pyramid and several other mounds near Vincennes marked the northeastern boundary of a confederacy that was centered at the Mississippian city of Cahokia near St. Louis, Missouri, although he appeared not to understand the substantial cultural differences between the two peoples of "Mound Builders."[5] Two different histories of Vincennes and its vicinity, published in 1886 and 1911, regarded Pyramid Mound and the other nearby flat-topped mounds as evidence of prehistoric religious sites comparable to the pyramids of the Aztecs in Mexico City.[6][7]

Later archaeological work, conducted by professionals in the late twentieth century, has largely discounted earlier conclusions. Accounts published in the 1970s and 1998 concluded that Pyramid and comparable sites nearby were actually natural loess hills that Indians of the Woodland period chose to use as cemeteries.[8]:668 Contributing to this conclusion is the fact that these hills are consistently of similar sizes, composed of the same sorts of soil, located on the eastern edge of the Wabash River valley, and shaped to be in line with the prevailing winds. Consequently, although these hills are definitely shaped like artificial burial mounds and consistently called "mounds", they are not truly mounds of any sort.[8]:669


Despite its natural origins, Pyramid Mound is an important archaeological site, due to the burials, pottery, and projectile points found in the burial zone near the top.[2]:3 Because of its archaeological importance, the "mound" was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.[1] It is the center of a park operated by the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department.[9]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d Tomak, Curtis. National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Pyramid Mound (12k14). National Park Service, 1974-10-25.
  3. ^ Redmond, Brian, and Ken Tankersley. "Indiana University Archaeological Survey: Site 12-K-14, Pyramid Mound". Bloomington: Indiana University Glenn Black Laboratory, 1986-06-26.
  4. ^ Winters, Howard D. An Archaeological Survey of the Wabash Valley in Illinois. Springfield: Illinois State Museum Society, 1963, 84.
  5. ^ Peet, Stephen Denison. The Mound Builders: Their Works and Relics. 2nd ed. Chicago: Office of the American Antiquarian, 1903, 264-265.
  6. ^ History of Knox and Daviess County, Indiana: From the Earliest Time to the Present; with Biographical Sketches, Reminiscences, Notes, Etc.; Together with an Extended History of the Colonial Days of Vincennes, and Its Progress Down to the Formation of the State Government. Chicago: Goodspeed, 1886, 93.
  7. ^ Greene, George E. History of Old Vincennes and Knox County, Indiana. Vol. 1. Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1911, 10.
  8. ^ a b Stafford, C. Russell. "The Geomorphology of Sugar Loaf Mound: Prehistoric Cemeteries and the Formation of Loess Cones in the Lower Wabash Valley". Geoarchaeology: An International Journal 13.7 (1998): 649-672.
  9. ^ Our Parks, Knox County Parks and Recreation Department, 2012. Accessed 2012-11-01.