Protect the Mounds

Not many college students can boast that their daily commute passes through the ancient remains of a cultural epicenter, but I was privileged enough to experience this last year while living in north campus.

I lived only a few steps from the LSU mounds; those iconic grassy knolls, which make a beloved gameday backdrop and nostalgic touchstone for anyone with substantial ties to our campus.

However, the significance of these landmarks runs so much deeper than tailgates and sappy sentiments. Researchers have long understood the mounds to be ancient remnants of a highly sophisticated Native American culture.

The historical and cultural importance of the campus mounds was brought to the forefront earlier this year when The Advocate reported that geography professor Brooks Ellwood had uncovered evidence dating human activity on the mounds to around 11,300 B.C.

If Professor Ellwood’s dating is correct, the LSU campus mounds could be the oldest standing human structures on Earth.

Despite ample signage forbidding people from treading on the mounds, the site remains a favorite recreational space for students and visitors alike. On any given day, it is not uncommon to see the area abound with an assortment of study groups, curious pedestrians and rambunctious children.

As innocent and well-intentioned as all this may be, the excessive foot-traffic is an obvious deviation from the respect and protection a space like this rightfully deserves. My first-hand experience with this kind of neglect last semester prompted me to write an article arguing for those on campus to pay more careful attention to the protection of the mounds.

It seems my hopes have been realized and a serious plan to protect the site might finally be in the works. What’s even more exciting is that this new charge is primarily being led by students.

I recently spoke with a source close to the Student Senate about a new campaign to protect the mounds.

We discussed the difficulties that have inevitably plagued the establishment of a long-term solution, which has been in the works for many years with little apparent impact. Complications among different interest groups have understandably delayed this process.

A wide array of solutions has been considered; everything is on the table, from redirecting sidewalks to building brick walls and even planting new types of grass which would help prevent erosion and deter people from sitting on the mounds.

Although a long-term fix is surely the end goal, simply waiting around through years of deliberation will only prove counterproductive in a situation like this. Every day, the mounds are subject to damage by both natural and human forces.

If we’re going to be serious about protecting these landmarks, something needs to happen quickly.

Proper education is a critical factor in promoting this sort of historical preservation. Having a well-developed understanding of Native American history and the role of the mounds is essential for those who interact with them, so they may nurture a genuine sense of respect for what they are in the presence of.

Student-led groups like the Native American Student Organization are making stellar advances on this educational front.

While the University’s administrative gears grind to slowly churn out a good solution, the Student Senate is in the process of discerning how the site’s condition can be maintained in the short-term.

Such a prompt and pragmatic approach is long overdue. The campus mounds are an invaluable asset not only to the University but to our wider understanding of human history and culture.

A failure to protect these treasures would be a tragedy and utter embarrassment on the University’s part. If Ellwood’s hypothesis is correct, and the campus mounds are in fact the oldest human structures on earth, how will the University look if it fails to protect them?

Luckily, it seems proactive students are beginning to pick up the administration’s slack.

Evan Leonhard is a 19-year-old English and philosophy major from New Orleans, Louisiana.

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