The name "mound builders" refers to numerous ancestral Native American tribes that represent much of the cultural advancement of Native Americans in numerous locations in North America. It should be understood that the Mound Builders were not a single tribe. Instead, there were many groups living from the Gulf of Mexico to the Ohio River Valley and the Mississippi River that built different types of sophisticated mounds and had many more cultural advancements than are often credited to ancestral Americans.
The mounds, semi-rounded structures that rose from the earth, could serve several purposes. Effigy mounds were semi-animal shaped mounds. These might have been sites for worship or for burials. One of the most famous of these still in existence is the 1370 foot (417.58 m) long Serpent Mound located in Ohio. Other mounds looked like flat-topped pyramids and may have been used for religious ceremonies.
Different types of Mounds may date back to 2500 BCE and there’s strong evidence that the advancement of these cultures was significant. For instance, some archaeologists argue that many of the Mound Builders were practicing large scale farming as far back as 6000 BCE. Some people have the mistaken impression that the Native Americans were primarily nomadic and had always been so. These builder tribes show that this was definitely not the case, and advanced cultures and civilizations were not uncommon throughout America. These tribes faded, and it’s hard to tell which tribes could currently claim descendancy from different areas where mounds still exist or may have existed.
When Europeans first traveled to the Americas, they mistakenly assumed that Native Americans could not possibly have been the Mound Builders. In fact, this belief of wise cultures that had developed not only agriculture but also metallurgy, was used as evidence to expel Native Americans from lands they possessed. It was argued that Native Americans destroyed the Mound Builders and thus had no rights to the lands they occupied. This mistaken assumption did not account for a culture that transitioned from something seemingly more advanced to something simpler.
Due to the proliferation of mounds across North America, most archaeologists feel that there was a time in the distant past when numerous large Native American settlements existed. But it’s difficult to decide exactly what each group believed. Archaeologists believe each group of Mound Builders would have had its own set of religious practices and cultural standards, and that these might have differed significantly from the practices of other groups. Mound Builders were not a homogeneous people but many different groups of people with advanced culture.