Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Mound Builders: The Marksville State Historic Site

Title: Ancient Mound Builders: The Marksville State Historic Site
Year: 1994
Length: 15 minutes
Made by: Office of State Parks; State of Louisiana, Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism; and Louisiana Public Broadcasting
Genre: expository
Authors: Director Gray Warriner graduated with a degree in Geology and Physical Geography from the University of Washington, but abandoned his graduate studies in geology for filmmaking when he encountered a French documentary film crew at Tikal. He returned to UW to teach film for several years and has won several awards.

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Mega creepy opening with fuzzy Native Americans in the background. The wind is howling, the narrator is declarative! We have a lot of fast moving skies, sunsets, clouds!

TIME. IT MOVES CONSTANTLY FORWARD…ALAS, WE CANNOT SEE THE FUTURE…BUT HERE AT THE MOUNDS WE CAN SEE INTO THE PAST….

Well, golly. Archaeologists serve up the second-best, just for you. We get to see a mound now, but still with the dramatic skies. A whole minute into the movie. There is a drawn-out discussion of time and looking into the past, with a zooming timeline of things that mostly white dudes did, because they were the important things, right? We find that written history came to a “grinding halt” before the European explorers.

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While Greeks were building temples, mounds of earth were build across eastern America. Nice superimposition. I wonder if it’s to scale.

The production values in this video are a little bit crazy, lots of zooming images and neon outlines of Confucius. It’s almost like the film editors thought that the material was incredibly dry and so they decided to jazz it up a little bit, add a creepy soundtrack and an Authoritative Narrator.

Rewind though, let’s review glaciation in the Ohio region, and how Ohio was the perfect place for people to settle. Rich resources led to…free time to make cool stuff. I do not always fault a touch of environmental determinism, when taken into consideration of other factors.

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Reenactment of “having free time.”

The Hopewell influence spread to several other communities. When people say things like that, I always things of great clouds of influence, like locusts, descending onto a region.

The narrator asks, Why, why build mounds? And I actually like that they just straight out address something that has been constructed as mysterious and lost knowledge in a pretty straight-forward fashion. Some had burials, some were thought to be astronomically related…but then we back down again, we don’t really know. Fair enough, I suppose (she says, not knowing a whole lot about the Hopewell).

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Hey, archaeologists! Maybe they’ll tell us something useful! Ooh, it’s only a 20-second-long shot and we’re only shown because we didn’t find any evidence of writing. Bummer.

We hear a bit about the Adena, and the cessation of mound-building, but I was happy that the authors of the video didn’t think that the Hopewell went away, but (like the Romans…again with the Classical comparisons) just changed their ways of life.

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Heeeeeeeeey! We’re here to build some mounds!

 

And then, the Mississippians, who built this one place you may have heard of, Cahokia. Nice art, nice reconstructions, I wonder who the original artists were? We hear about the 200,000+ mounds that once covered the eastern US, and about the destruction of 85% of them.

Overall, not an incredible amount of archaeology in this film; most of the information obviously gleaned from years of archaeological investigation is presented as given. This is a film primarily about the mounds, with only a little bit of discussion of daily life, and most of the material culture of the Hopewell (mounds aside) are presented as zoomy-flashy images that go by as uninterpreted “art objects” that show how advanced the Hopewell were. If there is an art-historical approach to examining Native American life, then this would be it. The mounds and the artifacts are presented in compare/contrast style to developments in the Classical world, and while this better situates the timeline, I’m unsure of the continued productivity of constant comparison.

3.5/5

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