LSU Campus Mounds
At the heart of LSU’s campus are two earthen mounds, architectural remnants created by Native Americans thousands of years ago – built by egalitarian hunter-gatherers and a subject of mystery and marvel for generations of admirers.The LSU Campus Mounds (16EBR6) are now at a crossroads. They are at risk, but thoughtful action, inspired by respect for the past, can preserve these cultural treasures into the future.
Native American Heritage Month, celebrated each November, celebrates the history, tradition, and values of Native Americans. National Native American Heritage Month serves as a reminder of the positive effect indigenous peoples have had on the cultural development and growth of the U.S., as well as the struggles and challenges they have and continue to face.
A Time for Action
The LSU Campus Mounds represented a sacred and ceremonial place for the Native Americans who built them and continue to be recognized as such by people today. The mounds have been part of LSU’s identity since the university moved from a site north of downtown Baton Rouge to its current campus in the 1920s, when they were immediately recognized as something special. The LSU site is one of the few locations in Louisiana where visitors and tourists can visit and see Native American mounds, and they are the oldest mounds in Louisiana that are publicly accessible.
For all of these reasons, researchers have long sought, with varying levels of success,
to protect the mounds from deterioration from both the elements and from people walking,
sitting, sliding, and biking on them. LSU has responded with vehicle barriers, signage,
temporary fencing, and game-day rules to discourage the public from potentially damaging
the mounds further.
But years of activity on the mounds have left wear and tear, including visible deformation on one mound. And the growth of trees on the mounds and their subsequent decay have contributed to increased water flow into the mounds, as well as scarring from erosion. There are also concerns about vibrations from traffic passing nearby.
On Feb. 3, 2020, a newly formed committee met to begin discussing a new master plan
for protecting and preserving the mounds. The plan consists of three areas: Design,
Education, and Support.
To minimize future disturbance at the mounds and stabilize current deterioration, the design concept seeks to keep people off the mounds and to increase the buffer around the mounds for further protection. The plan includes plantings and additional landscaping to discourage wandering from the pathways, as well as non-intrusive fencing and an observation deck to allow unencumbered views of the site. The mounds themselves would get a clay soil cap, topped with native grasses and native wildflowers, minimizing the need for mowing and other potentially damaging maintenance. The long-term concept envisions rerouting nearby roads to lower traffic vibrations.
To educate the public on the local and global significance, the plan includes interpretive presentations around the mounds; a pop-up mini museum for game days and other events; guided tours; school materials; and more – all with the additional goal of instilling a sense of respect and pride in these archaeological treasures. The committee is seeking support for these efforts through grants and fundraising activities and events.
Louisiana has an usually large number of mounds and earthworks — more than 800, spanning a wide range of time — believed to be built by the indigenous people of North America. The state’s abundant natural resources, mild climate, and plentiful native plants and animals made it an ideal area for groups to gather and remain in one place, allowing for the time-consuming construction of large earthworks. In addition to the LSU Campus Mounds, other noteworthy mounds in Louisiana include those in West Carroll Parish at the Poverty Point World Heritage Site.
All Native American mounds are special because of the rich history they represent. Among the oldest of the known mounds in the Americas, the LSU Campus Mounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The two mounds, each nearly 20 feet tall, are among the most accessible and viewed mounds in Louisiana. Most other early mound sites in Louisiana are at least partially on private property and protected by landowners.
Climbing and sliding on the mounds damaged the grass and left ruts in the surface of the mounds, leading to erosion. Also, the soil inside the mounds is unstable, and vibrations can cause landslides. Now that science has made us aware of these concerns, we must take steps to preserve these archaeological treasures and limit the factors that may cause damage. The mounds are also thought to have religious and ceremonial significance and should be respected in the same manner as a church or cemetery.
The mounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and they tell the story of the indigenous people of North America. They are considered historically significant and architecturally important and should be preserved. When former Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long chose a new site for LSU’s campus in the early 1900s, the mounds were one of the reasons he chose the current location, because of the culture and interest they would add to the campus.
As the modern steward of this sacred land, LSU takes its responsibility to protect and preserve these cultural treasures seriously. The mounds are historically significant and architecturally important. If we all do our part, these important structures can stand the test of time, stirring the imagination and educating future generations on the region’s complex history. Please help us preserve the LSU Campus Mounds by:
- Learning more about the mounds and their unique value to our campus
- Admiring them from a safe distance, in accordance with posted rules
- Reporting any unauthorized activity that could damage or deface the mounds
- Supporting preservation efforts by making a donation
- Reveille: Mounds Committee Drafts Plan for Further Protection, Collaboration with Athletics (Jan. 27, 2022)
- Country Roads Magazine: Unearthing Prehistory, One Shard at at Time (Sept. 21, 2020)
- The (Baton Rouge) Advocate: LSU Mounds Could Be Oldest Human-Made Structure, But Peer Review Necessary, Professor Says (Jan. 19, 2020)
- School of Library & Information Science: Madeline Conrad Creates Subject Guide for Indigenous Studies (Dec. 10, 2020)
- 64 Parishes: LSU Campus Mounds (Undated)
- Louisiana Travel: Native American Indian Mounds Across Louisiana (Undated)