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Saturday Art: Preserving Archaeological Finds, Spiro Mounds, OK

Replica of pipe found at Spiro mounds, on loan to present day exhibits on site.

The Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma are a treasure that I’ve had the great good fortune to visit a few times.   There, ceremonial mounds that provide burial sites were left by the peoples now known as Wichita, Caddo and a few other modern names, and form what we now call the Southern Cult of native tribes.

The treasures there have an unfortunate past, as the site was despoiled and artifacts sold off to various collectors.   In museums across the world, now, Spiro Mounds treasure resides, while little of it is left for visitors there to see.

Replicas of Spiro culture sold off from original site, depicting public ceremonies reflective of those still used by tribes of the present day.

While the culture in Eastern Oklahoma died off – as far as is known, due to a devastating drought – the fortunate results of this cataclysm for the native peoples is that for the most part, archaeological studies can concentrate on retrieval of the treasures left at the various mounds that still dot the region.

The site, occupied from AD 850 to 1450, was home to powerful leaders who directed the building of the nine platform and burial mounds on the 80 acre site. These leaders governed farmers in outlying villages who probably provided labor for mound-building.


This headline brought the Spiro Mounds to national attention in the 1930’s when a group of treasure hunters set off a charge of black powder in the largest mound after losing their “mining” lease. The men sold artifacts from the mounds to collectors all over the world. Fragile items like cotton cloth and feather robes were tossed aside and crushed underfoot.

After the treasure hunters lost their lease, archeologists from the University of Oklahoma led WPA workers on a controlled excavation of the site in 1936 to salvage as much knowledge as possible about this unique site.

Fund cutbacks have almost left out archaeological expeditions to find the remaining evidences of the past civilization.   Modern developments in studies of the earth have revealed many promising areas of cultivation that show promise for finds that will improve our knowledge of the civilization that was there long before we came upon it.

Brown Mound, temple site at Spiro mound site

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.