Centuries before the Giza pyramids of Egypt were built and long before Nero infamously fiddled while Rome burned, indigenous people of North America were constructing vast mounds. Using baskets to carry soil, clay, or stones, they shaped remarkable ceremonial and burial landscapes, mainly in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Early archaeologists coined the term ‘Mound Builders’ for the ancient cultures behind these earthworks. Recent research reveals that these sites were the product of diverse cultures—such as the Woodland, Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippian—evolving over thousands of years by the fertile riverbanks.
In this region, several major centers rose to prominence. We’ll focus on the most significant ones, including three UNESCO World Heritage sites: Poverty Point, Cahokia, and Hopewell. Join Dr. Timothy Pauketat, who has spent years studying Cahokia, and a select group of thirteen others on a ten-day archaeological journey to explore these captivating ancient sites.
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Arrive New Orleans. Take the hotel shuttle to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel New Orleans Airport, located near the airport. Meet in the lobby at 5:30pm to transfer to a nearby Cajun seafood restaurant for our festive welcome dinner party. (D)
Depart early for our four-hour drive to Poverty Point, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Louisiana. This extraordinary National Monument was built 3,400 years ago. Remarkably, it was contemporary with the Olmec of San Lorenzo and La Venta in Mexico. Archaeologists have not found any human remains in these monumental earthworks. So scientific work has shown that Poverty Point was once a vast pilgrimage site and an epicenter for religious ceremonies and not a ‘city’ filled with inhabitants. An engineering marvel, six imposing concentric half-circles, 4 to 6 feet high in places, face towards a plaza covering an astounding 43 acres. Here, we join Diane Greenlee, the archaeologist who has been conducting research at Poverty Point for more than a decade. Dr. Greenlee will tell us about her discoveries. Before leaving, we will enter the museum to view a wide assortment of finds from Poverty Point. In the late afternoon, cross the mighty Mississippi River. Our home for the night is the Hampton Inn in Greenville Mississippi. (B/L/D)
Winterville is a National Historic Landmark just north of Greenville along the Mississippi River. The park includes more that twelve large platforms arranged around an enormous plaza. This ceremonial center thrived from about 1000AD to its abandonment in 1450AD. The Mississippian period was an intensive time of mound building and this site echoes influences springing from celebrated Cahokia in Illinois. According to archaeological evidence, a great fire during the late 14th century destroyed the structure atop the 55-foot central mound. We return to Greenville for lunch and then drive to Memphis where we will spend two nights. (B/L/D)
We depart, again crossing the Mississippi River to Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park. Here, three mounds remain where eighteen once stood. In the past, it was enclosed by a lofty 100-foot tall earthen embankment; and a portion is still visible today. Most likely, a small permanent group of religious and political leaders and their families resided here. But remains of scattered villages and hamlets in the surrounding countryside suggest that the community was chiefly made up of farmers. The displays in the onsite museum contain artifacts found during excavations including arrowheads created from crystal, and conch shell from the Gulf of Mexico. While here, we will meet privately with an archaeologist from the Toltec Mounds Research Station. Return to Memphis with dinner on our own. (B/L)
Travel north from Memphis to Cahokia, across the mighty Mississippi River from St. Louis. A thousand years ago, Cahokia was the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and the largest mound center in what is now the United States. This was the pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic center of the Mississippian culture. And this culture extended throughout the Mississippi Valley and the south-eastern United States. We will enjoy a special treat when we meet University of Illinois archaeologists, under the direction of Dr. Alleen Betzenhauser. They are working at one of several archaeological sites under investigation in the bottomlands around Cahokia. During our visit, Dr. Betzenhauser will take us into their lab to view some of the excavated artifacts. Overnight for two nights at the Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch. (B/L/D)
Today is our Cahokia day! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the richest archaeological region on the continent north of central Mexico. Originally it was composed of three boroughs connected to each other via waterways, neighborhoods, and trails. The city and nearby communities extended across the river floodplain for miles. The Cahokia Interpretation Center is not to be missed. It focuses on the uniqueness of Cahokia as an urban city with singular features. It has the most and the largest earthen pyramids north of Mexico City, great upright wooden posts, distinct earthen causeways and lagoons, and evidence of elaborate sacrificial offerings. We will climb Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas. At the summit, we will learn about Cahokian religion, based around the sun, moon, thunder gods, and agricultural cycle. After that, we will retrace the travels of Charles Dickens in 1842 to Cahokia’s remarkable lunar-aligned Emerald Acropolis. We will enter private and state property, 15 miles east of the ancient city. Dr. Pauketat has been working here since 2012. (B/L)
Our morning walk takes us to the iconic Gateway Arch rising elegantly more than 600 feet into the sky. Here, we will board the tram to proceed to the top for spectacular views over St. Louis, the great Mississippi River, and the surrounding landscape. While here, we will enter the Gateway Arch Museum featuring 200 years of history within six exhibit areas. In the afternoon, a long drive takes us from St. Louis into Ohio to Cincinnati where we spend three nights in the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati in downtown. (B/L/D)
Located near Newark, Ohio, the Newark Earthworks are three distinct sites, all credited to the Hopewell culture. We will visit two of them. The Great Circle Earthworks is massive. It is 1,200 feet across with a tall, protective wall enclosing it. Only a fragment of The Wright Earthworks can be seen. It forms an almost perfect square with part of the enclosure wall still standing. Adena Tablets were a rare type of artifact engraved in deep bas-relief and associated with the Adena culture. In the afternoon, we will explore the Ohio History Connection, a museum and research center in Columbus. Here, we will see many Adena and Hopewell artifacts that are on display. A highlight will be the clever effigy pipes depicting human and animal figures. Return to Cincinnati with dinner on our own. (B/L)
Today we will explore Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, recently inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, we will visit the Mound City Group, the only fully restored Hopewell earthwork. The complex covers a vast area larger than ten football fields. When constructed, protective walls encircled more than two dozen mounds. The visitor center displays fascinating artifacts found in excavations. Then it’s on to Serpent Mound, the largest effigy earthwork in the world. the 1,370-foot long site is shaped like a curved snake with its mouth open and an egg at its mouth. The site, believed to have been constructed by the Adena people, includes a museum about this culture. (B/L/D)
Independent transfers to the airport for homeward bound flights. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.