The Indian mounds on Dalrymple, officially known as the LSU Campus Mounds, are among the University’s most iconic campus landmarks. Their mysterious presence seems to have captivated the minds of students for generations, fueling a comical amount of outlandish speculation, folklore, and tradition.
Moreover, after decades of archeological investigation, the enormous historical significance of the mounds has finally come to light. Given the immense cultural importance of these ancient structures, effective and permanent protection for the mounds is long overdue.
The traditionally held consensus reasoned that the mounds date to around 6,100 years ago, putting their construction thousands of years in advance of monuments like Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid. It’s thought that the site likely served as a meeting point for the nomadic bands that once inhabited the area to exchange information and resources.
If that isn’t impressive enough, earlier this week, the Advocate published an article detailing a new claim posed by LSU Geology professor Brooks Ellwood, a leading researcher on the campus mounds. In the article, Advocate Staff Writer Youssef Rddad states, “Ellwood says the mounds could be twice as old as previously thought . . . Ellwood now estimates [the mounds are] about 11,300 years old, based on the material he found inside them.”
Although Ellwood’s claim still needs to undergo a process of peer review, the implications are nevertheless alarming. If what Ellwood suggests is correct, then the LSU Campus Mounds would be, as Rddad describes them, “the oldest man-made structures in the Western Hemisphere, and possibly the world.”
Tragically, half a century of gameday tailgates and traditional cardboard sledding has left the mounds in a serious state of disrepair. Various attempts have been made to slow the site’s inevitable deterioration while simultaneously trying to remain sensitive to the memories and expectations of alum and life-long Tiger fans.
In the 1980s, sidewalks and small bricks walls were constructed around parts of the mounds to keep off vehicles and subtly guide pedestrians along a less destructive route.
In 2010, the University’s “Save the Mounds” campaign managed to bring an unprecedented awareness to the site’s fascinating past and problematic present. However, the operation ultimately fell short as it concluded with the current practice of erecting temporary chain-link fences around the mounds solely during game days. It was a tremendous move in the right direction, but temporary protection is simply not enough for a something as substantial as the campus mounds.
Unsurprisingly, despite the handful of small signs and subtle deterrents, I regularly see people climbing on the mounds. If, as Ellwood suspects, these unsuspecting knolls are, in fact, among the oldest standing human structures on Earth, the University’s continued neglect of this site is nothing less than tragic and embarrassing.
There needs to be a permanent, all-encompassing solution that definitively prevents unauthorized people from setting foot on the mounds. A more straightforward answer might simply be a fence, one more durable and more aesthetically appealing than its gameday counterpart, that completely encloses both mounds while preserving the area’s serene sensibility.
I would also like to see more inclusion of local Native American communities when deliberating on matters of Indigenous heritage like this. As far as I can see, apart from the permission needed from Native leaders to conduct research, the voices of contemporary Native communities seem rather absent from dialogue concerning the mounds and how they should be preserved or presented to the public.
So many people, for so many reasons, possess deep emotional, cultural, and intellectual ties with the LSU Campus Mounds. The University enjoys the unique privilege of housing such an important piece of human history in its own backyard. It’s our responsibility, as a community, to make an effort in preserving these ancient structures for generations to come.
Evan Leonhard is a 19 year-old English and Philosophy major from New Orleans Louisiana.