Grave Creek Mound

February 8, 2011 – Usually, you name your town cemetery after your town. So if you live in the town of Perfection, then your main cemetery is Perfection Cemetery (and you should be watching out for graboids). In Moundsville, West Virginia, they did the opposite, and named the town after the cemetery. Sort of.

In this case, the “Mound” in Moundsville refers to Grave Creek Mound, the largest Native American burial mound in the entire United States, which apparently has way more burial mounds than I thought. In fact, looking around online, it seems as if parts of the country are completely goitery with them, like the land was frozen mid-boil or something.

However, even if Grave Creek Mound were the only hump of dead people in the country, it would still be impressive. At 69 feet tall, 295 feet wide at its base, and with a circumference of...hold on...doing the math...times pi...926 feet, Grave Creek Mound is a pile of dirt like an iceberg is a chunk of ice. Meaning that it is exactly that, but to state such just makes us jerks.

The grave mound was built by the Adena, a Native American people who lived thousands of years ago in a hunk of now-states that cover an annoyingly cross-regional area south of the Great Lakes. We know very little about Adena culture other than they liked to build mounds and were the first of a handful of Native American cultures that did so. In fact, like Remington Steele, we don’t even know their real name.

They were dubbed after the estate of the Ohio governor upon whose property the first Adena mound was excavated, a naming practice that could have gone horribly awry had it been on the property of somebody like, say, Michael Jackson. History is full of “This close to silly.” Just kidding. The Neverland peoples would be an awesome name. For anything.

The Grave Creek specimen is figured to be about 2,000 years old and was discovered by whitey in 1770. The artificial hill remained intact for another 70 years before a couple of amateur archeologists (i.e., looters), dug into it and rifled through all the bones and artifacts inside and then charged admission for people to come see their awesome handiwork. All told, three complete skeletons were found inside and enough beads, trinkets, and implements to buy three Manhattan islands.

The state of West Virginia, which hadn’t been embarrassed enough by Virginia to become its own state at the time of either the discovery or the plundering of the mound, eventually got their wild, wonderful hands on this 60,000-ton pile of earth in 1909. Now it’s a park. Because that’s what states do when they’re not naming state vegetables, animals, minerals, and television shows. They make parks.

Grave Creek Mound is located in the center of the town that was named for it, on Jefferson Avenue, right across from the now defunct and always spooky West Virginia State Penitentiary. It’s free to visit and features a long set of stone steps that wraps around the grass- and tree-covered mound and leads to a flattened top surrounded by a one-foot-tall stone fence. In the center of the hilltop is a short, four-sided obelisk with the cardinal points engraved into its flanks. While we were bear-went-over-the-mountain-ing there, a couple was perched on the low wall eating lunch. I’m just imagining their text message conversation prior:

“Wanna lunch?”

“Ok. Where?”

“Let’s grab Subway & eat on burial mound.”

“Awesome idea. ;)”

“I hate emoticons.”

Actually that last line was me. It does make me wonder if Grave Creek Mound is the town make-out spot, though.

Adjacent to the mound is the Delf Norona Museum and Grave Creek Mound Archeological Complex, which is also free and showcases various Adena artifacts, a large pre-Columbian model of the area, and archaeological facilities that you can view through an observation window.

As cool as an ancient Native American burial mound is, there’s really not much more that I have to say about it. Which is fine, but does make me wonder how much I’ll have to say when I see my first iceberg. Hopefully more than, “Look out!”