Watson Brake is a circular arrangement of eleven earthwork mounds with two connecting earthen ridges, located in the Ouachita River valley of northeastern Louisiana, in the south central United States, approximately 70 kilometers southwest of Poverty Point.
Watson Brake contains the oldest dated mounds in North America, securely dated to 3500 cal BC, by radiocarbon dating, thermoluminesce and investigation of the soil structures. Other mound groups identified in the Lower Mississippi Valley between ~6000 and 5000 years ago include 13 others in the state of Louisiana and one in Mississippi.
The terrace at Watson Brake was first occupied about 4000 BC, by hunter-fisher-gatherers who eventually established permanent settlements occupied the year round. The mounds themselves were constructed beginning 3500 BC.
Watson Brake Artifacts
Artifacts discovered at Watson Brake include Middle Archaic points (Ellis, Evans and Pontchartrain); over 30,000 pieces of flaked stone including a wide range of tools based on a blade technology were identified. Remarkable is the recovery of over 150 microdrills, extremely small (average width=2.1 mm) retouched flaked stone objects with a tapered end: about half of these show rotary wear when examined at 40x magnification. There were also drilled chert beads, oddly enough not in direct association with the drill bits.
Ground stone hammerstones, abraders and a large metate were recovered from the excavations, as well hints of bone and antler tools, which were not well preserved. Red ochre is present and there were over 30 kilograms of fired earthen objects, in a variety of shapes. Cubes, spheres, tablets and cylinders are noted in the collections; a handful were identified in a cache deposit. The purpose of these objects remains unknown.
Subsistence at Watson Brake
At least 56 different animal species have been identified in the faunal collections, despite relatively poor preservation. Aquatic and riverine animals dominate, including small mammals, waterfowl, fish, shellfish and turtle; some upland species (wild turkey, rabbit, pocket gopher and whitetailed deer) were also identified.
Plants at Watson Brake include hickory nuts, and wild forms of the weedy annuals which would eventually become part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex: goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), knotweed (Polygonum spp.) and sumpweed/marsh elder (Iva annua).
Archaeology at Watson Brake
Watson Brake was first archaeologically recorded in 1981, by Reca Jones and Stephen Williams. Archaeological study of the north mound group was conducted in the 1990s, by Joe Saunders and colleagues. Saunders returned to the south mounds in the early 21st century, after the property had been bought by the Archaeological Conservancy and sold to the state of Louisiana.
Saunders JW. 1997. A mound complex in Louisiana at 5400-5000 years before the present. Science 277:1796-1799.
Saunders JW, Mandel RD, Sampson CG, Allen CM, Allen ET, Bush DA, Feathers JK, Gremillion KJ, Hallmark CT, Jackson HE et al. 2005. Watson Brake, a Middle Archaic Mound Complex in Northeast Louisiana. American Antiquity 70(4):631-668.