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Mckees Rocks Mound

American Indians are the indigenous peoples of North America and for thousands of years they inhabited the Ohio Valley. The first identified people known to inhabit the Ohio River Valley were the tribes of Adena in 800 B.C. and Hopewell in 400 B.C.

Native Americans built ancient earthen mounds over a sacred burial place as a memorial or landmark, or as a site for ceremonial, ritual, spiritual, or religious rites. Indian peoples built mounds made of earth in various shapes and sizes across eastern North America. Mound building developed among Indians in the Ohio Valley during the Adena culture stage (800 B.C.-100 A.D.) and then flourished during the Hopewell (100-500 A.D.) and Mississippian Eras (700-1300 A.D.). The McKees Rocks Mound is located at the confluence of Chartiers Creek and the Ohio River four miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. 

The mounds were topics of much conjecture during the westward expansion of the United States, even though Thomas Jefferson had excavated a mound and deduced it to be the creation of American Indians. Regrettably, as the last of the eastern Indian tribes were driven west of the Mississippi along the Trail of Tears, Jefferson's conclusions were forgotten, and the mounds were mistakenly thought to have been the work of a lost race of Mound Builders. This myth was finally laid to rest by the Smithsonian Institution's archaeologists in the late 20th-century when prehistoric indigenous Indian people were again recognized to have built all of the mounds in the United States.

The McKees Rock Mound is dome-shaped earthwork is estimated at 85 feet in diameter and 266 feet in circumference and at least 16 feet in height.  It is the oldest Indian burial ground in western Pennsylvania and one of the oldest mounds in America. Furthermore, it is undoubtedly the most impressive example of ancient Indian architecture in modern Pennsylvania. Initial excavation of McKees Rocks Mound occurred in 1896 by Frank M. Gerrodette of the Carnegie Museum. The excavation found 33 skeletons and yielded religious artifacts and shells from both the Adena and the Hopewell people, some of which were made of copper or marine shells. This find led archaeologists to believe that the Adena participated in widespread trade.

The archaeological evidence suggests that this mound was built in three stages by Indians of the late Adena and early Hopewell cultures. Most of the recovered artifacts are associated with the Adena and Hopewell cultures, but archaeologists have also found materials associated with the much later Monongahela culture, which established a village on the promontory during the late Woodland Period (1000-1500 A.D.).

Today, archaeologists do not excavate Indian burials unless such sites are disturbed by some other event, such as a construction project, that will result in their destruction. That professional commitment, along with the protection of many surviving mounds in local, state, and national parks, is helping to preserve this important element of the American past for future generations.

In 1946, James Fulton, a Republican congressional representative from Pennsylvania unsuccessfully introduced legislation to turn the 19-acre tract on McKees Rocks Hill into a national park. Unfortunately, no protection resulted, and by the 1950s, a large chunk of the Indian burial mound had fallen into the Ohio River. Only a vestige of the original site survives today and is overgrown with weeds, trees and shrubs but nothing is built on the surviving mound now. The mound lies behind Wilson School on private property owned by Gordon Terminal Service Co., McKees Rocks Borough, and Lane Construction Corporation concrete plant.

Nevertheless, the remnant survives as testimony to the engineering skills and public architecture of Adena-Hopewell peoples. The mound stands as a reminder that there have been other great and proud civilizations upon this land, which have left their mark, and vanished. A state historical marker dedicated on May 18, 2002 resides near Rangers Field, Shingiss and Sproul Streets at the Bottoms section of McKees Rocks.The Mound Society of Western Pennsylvania believes that the site should undergo a Cultural Resource Management investigation to determine precisely the mound's size, age and origin. The society is interested returning the Adena and Hopewell remains to the mound ultimately preserving the area as a national park or world heritage site as a tribute to the Native American’s that lie under our feet and overlooking Pittsburgh from its ancient bluff.


Credit: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (Mound depicted in upper left)

For further information:

WQED Horizons - August 28, 2012.In this episode of Horizons, host Chris Moore reports on a battle for reverence and respect for an ancient Indian burial mound in McKees Rocks. http://www.wqed.org/tv/watch/?id=513

WTAETV - Team 4: Remains Moved From Old McKees Rocks Indian Mound June 28, 2010



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