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Spiro Mounds site shell engravingOklahoma's Past

LeFlore County

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1298 reported archeological sites for LeFlore County to date

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The Spiro Mounds Site

The Spiro Mounds Site is one of the most important archeological discoveries in North America and Oklahoma's only state archeological park. Spiro is the westernmost site of a complex cultural tradition in the Southeast called the Southern Cult or Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. The site, occupied from AD 850 to 1450, was home to powerful leaders who directed the building of the nine platform and burial mounds on the 80 acre site. These leaders governed farmers in outlying villages who probably provided labor for mound-building.



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 crushed underfoot.

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..


Pothunters at the Spiro Mounds site, ca. 1935.

Spiro Mounds State Park.


Canoers from shell engraving.

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).

Oklahoma Historical Society Spiro webpage

Texas 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.



Prehistoric Sites in LeFlore County Identified to Time Period

Chart of sites by time period.

Paleo = ?-8,000 BP / Archaic = 8,000-2,000 BP / Woodland = 2,000-1,000 BP / Village 1000-500 BP
BP (before present)


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Oklahoma Archeological Survey 111 E. Chesapeake Norman OK 73019-5111 (405)325-7211 Contact Webmaster: archsurvey@ou.edu

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