Radio Programs | Caddo Mounds Fact Sheet | Printable version
Caddoan Mounds State Historical Park, near Alto in East Texas
Caddo people occupied this site from about 800 to 1300 A.D. Archaeologists
aren’t sure how many people lived at the site. They have found the remains
of many houses and other structures at the site, but relatively few artifacts
from many houses, indicating that these houses might have been occupied for
only a short period each year.
The inhabitants of this and other sites in the region grew corn, hunted and
fished, and collected wild plant foods. They traded with hunter-gatherers from
Texas and adjoining regions, and appeared to share some cultural traits and
traditions with the Mississippian cultures of the Midwest and Southeast, including
Caddoan Mounds today contains the remains of three large mounds. The largest,
at the southern edge of the site, is called Mound A. It probably was the earliest
and most significant mound. About 40 houses were built around it, but not all
were in use at the same time. Mound B, near the center of the state park, probably
dated to around 1100 to 1300. This rectangular platform mound measures roughly
175 feet (55 meters) north-south and 115 feet (35 meters) east-west. When in
use, it would have had a flat top and broad earthen ramps on the north, east,
and south sides. The northernmost mound is Mound C, which was used as a ceremonial
burial mound for most of the time the site was occupied.
At least some families lived at the site year-round. Some of their houses
were round and might have been as much as 60 feet in diameter.
Archaeologists have used magnetometers to map the entire site, providing a
detailed map of the buried foundations of houses and other structures. They
are continuing to excavate interesting structures to more accurately establish
the timeline of Caddoan Mounds and to understand how the site was used.
Like most agricultural people, the Caddo were interested in charting the seasons
and watching the motions of the celestial bodies in the sky.
Many other mound sites across the Midwest and Southeast show significant astronomical
alignments. At Cahokia,
across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, archaeologists have discovered
the foundation for a larger circle of posts, which has been nicknamed “Woodhenge” because
of its astronomical connections. At the equinoxes, posts in the circle aligned
with the rising Sun and Cahokia’s most important mound, which served
as home for the chief. Other posts may have had similar astronomical alignments.
And a site known as Serpent
Ohio appears to align with sunrise and sunset on both the equinoxes and the
solstices, which mark the beginning of the astronomical seasons.
Platform mounds at Caddoan Mounds likely were aligned with stars or equinoxes,
according to archaeologists, although they have not yet determined the exact
Mound B, the large platform mound in the center of the site, was aligned due
north-south, which indicates it was aligned with the star that marked the north
celestial pole at the time. (Because Earth wobbles on its axis like a spinning
top, different stars serve as the North Star at different times. The current
North Star, Polaris, has served in that capacity for only a few hundred years.)
Other buildings, including large round houses built with large interior posts,
also seem to have a regular orientation with respect to the north-south axis.
A particular type of round house that was about 30 feet across had a large
hearth in the center encircled by four square posts. These houses seem to show
a regular alignment, with the posts turned a little bit west of north. Houses
built by other American Indians, such as the Pawnee, were aligned with stars
or other astronomical objects, and archaeologists say it’s likely that
the Caddoan Mound houses were built with a similar alignment.
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site is open to the public 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. every day except Monday. The park is located on Texas 21 in Cherokee County, six miles southwest of Alto. It features an interpretive center with audio-visual presentations, plus a self-guided trail to the mounds. 1649 State Hwy 21 West, Alto 75925; (936) 858-3218.
Traditions of the Caddo, by George Amos Dorsey; University of Nebraska Press,
1997. Myths and folklore of the Caddo people.
Caddo Indians: Where We Come From, by Cecile Elkins Carter; University of
Oklahoma Press, 1995. Written by a member of the Caddo Nation.
The Caddo Nation: Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Perspectives, by Timothy
K. Perttula; University of Texas Press, 1992.
“Native Astronomy and the Plains Caddoans,” by Waldo Wedel, in
Native American Astronomy, Anthony F. Aveni, editor; University of Texas Press,
Learn about...Texas Indians, by Georg Zappler; Texas Parks & Wildlife
Press, 1996. A learning and activity book for children.
The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times, by W.W. Newcomb Jr.;
the University of Texas Press, 1961, reprinted 2002.
The Caddo Nation
Official website of the Caddo Nation in Oklahoma.
Texas Beyond History: Texas: Life and Times of the Caddo
An extensive site on Caddo history and culture.
Handbook of Texas Online: Caddo Indians