The Harlan Mound Site
Excavation at the largest of the Harlan
The Harlan Site is the Oklahoma center and western
edge of a development beginning at the end of the first millenium,
the formation of an elite ruling class of priest/leaders who held
sway over farming villagers occupying fertile river valleys in much
of eastern North America. These leaders lived at mound centers where
religious ceremonies were performed. The communities of farming
people, growing corn, squash and beans, brought tribute to their
leaders and provided the labor for the building of earthen mounds
where temples and mortuary houses were built and in which elaborate
burials of the honored dead were placed.
The first mound at Harlan was built around AD 700.
However, the main mound-building began around AD 900 and continued
for around 300 years. During that period, four more mounds were
built up of dirt carried in from the local area. The largest mound
is 130 by 160 feet in outline. Four different mound-building events
over the period of Harlan's occupation brought the mound to its
eventual height of 14 feet. The earliest mound covered a burned
structure; the following building periods did not appear to cover
structures but rather to provide a heightened stage where rituals
were performed by the Harlan chiefs or priests.
Stones of structure buried under oldest
mound at the Harlan site.
The other mounds were devoted to the care and treatment
of the Harlan dead. Mortuary structures served as temporary houses
for the dead. At four different periods of time, the mortuaries
were completely cleaned out and the skeletal remains of the Harlan
ancestors were reburied in a burial mound. Over time, the ceremonial
offerings placed with these burials increased in number. They indicate
the growing status of the leaders and increasing trade with other
areas on the continent. Copper from the Great Lakes, conch shell
from the Gulf Coast and galena, a mineral used to form grey pigment,
from eastern Missouri show a vibrant community with extensive contacts
with other chiefdoms throughout North America.
The people who actually lived at the site were few
in number. Perhaps only the principal chief and a few retainers
or perhaps only a caretaker lived at the site. Most of the structures
excavated at Harlan were devoted to housing the dead.
Over the 300 years of its political power, the Harlan
site chiefs extended their influence throughout the Arkansas River
valley and perhaps even to the Ozark drainages in southwest Missouri
and northwest Arkansas. However, by AD 1250 the Harlan site had
been abandoned. The Norman
site in Wagoner county became ascendant for a short-lived period
and then the Spiro site on the Arkansas
River about 50 miles away became the most powerful and prestigious
community in the area.