Native American Burial Mounds

T. H. Lewis 1883 sketch

Wherever people have lived, there are places where they have left their dead. The area before you is a burial mound complex, or Native American cemetery, built about 1500-2000 years ago. This particular mound complex consisted of fifteen circular mounds and five linear mounds.

The mounds were made by stripping sod from a circular area. A burial chamber was excavated in the center of this area and individuals placed inside in various ways depending on their age, sex, or social status. They were positioned on their backs, sides, face down, sitting, or even standing. Jewelry, tools, food or symbols of their associated clans may have been included. Sometimes only the bones were buried in bundles or baskets. With the passage of time, burial customs changed and the use of burial mounds was discontinued.

The mounds were formed when dirt was used to fill and cover a burial chamber (yellow layer). Later, others were buried in the same mound and more dirt was added, increasing its height and width (brown layer). This may have occurred several times over hundreds of years (black layer). Some mounds were used for over a thousand years and may contain up to thirty-five individuals!

This large 11-acre burial mound complex was first surveyed in 1883 by T. H. Lewis, who as part of the Northwest Archeological Survey, mapped features such as burial mounds, rock alignments, and pictographs in 11 states and Manitoba, Canada. The three parallel lines connected to mounds 12-15 depict the linear mounds attached to them. The purpose of linear mounds is not known.

A letter from T.H. Lewis to his benefactor, A.J. Hill, dated October 31st, 1883, reports his survey of the Valley City burial mound complex. This page from T.H. Lewis' field book from October of 1883, shows his crude map and the extensive measurements that he took while surveying the complex: from left to right the columns show, 1) the number of the mound(s) corresponding to his map; 2) the direction he was headed while taking the measurements; 3) distance between the two mounds; 4) diameter of the mound, and 5) height of the mound.

Preservation of this Site Depends on You. Digging and Collecting Artifacts and Fossils on State Land Without a Permit is Illegal. ND Century Code Sections 55-03 and 54-17.3
JLK version