2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:15 AM


JOHNSON, Donald, Geography, University of Illinois, 220 Davenport Hall, 607 So. Mathews, Urbana, IL 61801 and JOHNSON, Diana N., Geosciences Consultants, 713 So. Lynn St, Champaign, IL 61820, dljohns@uiuc.edu

Mima mounds have been shown to be locally thickened biomantles produced by burrowing animals and their predators, and thus undeserving of the appellation “mysterious” so often attached to them. They were in fact common elements of pre-cultivation prairie tracts and prairie-forest boundaries of western and midwestern North America. For example, they were abundant in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, in Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, western Illinois and Wisconsin, and in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In the 19th century some were believed to be small Mound-builder mounds. Similar Mima-like locally thickened non-anthropic biomantles were also common in the pre-cultivation steppe tracts of Russia and Ukraine where they, too, were viewed by some as smallish Khourgans -- the Eurasian equivalent of Mound-builder mounds. Mima-type and Mima-like mounds in both regions, produced by burrowing animals, have been largely destroyed by cultivation and other historic enterprises, but a few tracts have escaped destruction.

Several early (19th century) investigators speculated that the Mound-builder traditions of eastern North America migrated from “western” origins (western, then, meant Midwest). Mima mounds are natural equivalents of usually larger and more extravagant Mound-builder mounds, though the latter were sometimes small and very Mima-like. Many of the latter contained burials and or cultural components, but many were also devoid of them (i.e., they were “sterile”).

We hypothesize that natural Mima-type and Mima-like mounds, tracts of which once dotted western and midcontinental North America and Eurasia, were natural templates for Mound-builders in North America, and for Khourgan-builders in Eurasia.