"OLD INDIAN BURIAL MOUNDS DESPOILED
TO SUPPLY DEMANDS OF CURIO SEEKERS"
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
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..
Fragment of Spiro shell engraving
The "Smoker", an effigy pipe from the Spiro Mounds.
The pipe measures more than a foot in length and was made
at the Cahokia site near St. Louis in the 1100's and brought
to Spiro as part of the exchange between chiefdoms.
See more on smoking ceremonies
in eastern Oklahoma.
Six mounds form a circular grouping around an oval plaza
on the western side of the site. The largest of these is known
as Brown mound. Steeply sloping on three sides, the mound
had a walkway on the fourth, southern side which led to a
building on top of the mound. This may have been a mortuary
house where the dead were prepared for burial.
The eastern group of mounds, about a quarter mile from Brown
mound, consisted of mounds where important leaders were buried
with elaborate ceremony and grave goods. The preservation
of delicate basketry, feather capes, and cloth was remarkable.
Unfortunately, many of these fragile artifacts were destroyed
in the plundering of the mounds by treasure hunters.
Trade goods found at the Spiro site include copper from the
Great Lakes, shell beads from the Gulf of California, and
conch shell from the Gulf of Mexico. They show the extensive
trade networks connecting different cultures across the continent
at the time.
For further reading, consult:
The Spiro Ceremonial Center : the Archaeology of Arkansas
Valley Caddoan culture in Eastern Oklahoma by James A.
Brown (University of Michigan, Memoirs of the Museum of
Anthropology, Number 29, 1996).
Historical Society Spiro webpage
Beyond History Spiro Mounds webpage
To visit the Spiro Mounds State Park, turn south off I-40
at the Sallisaw exit. Drive 16 miles on Highway 59 to Highway
9 and then 8 miles east. The site is located on the Arkansas
River near the WD Mayo Lock and Dam.