Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site

Kincaid Site

Illustration of the site
Nearest city Brookport, Illinois
Coordinates 37°4′50″N 88°29′30″W / 37.08056°N 88.49167°W / 37.08056; -88.49167Coordinates: 37°4′50″N 88°29′30″W / 37.08056°N 88.49167°W / 37.08056; -88.49167
NRHP Reference # 66000326
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL July 19, 1964[2]

The Kincaid Mounds Historic Site (11MX2-11; 11PO2-10)[3] c. 1050-1400 AD,[4] is the site of a city from the prehistoric Mississippian culture. One of the largest settlements of the Mississippian culture, it was located at the southern tip of present-day U.S. state of Illinois. Kincaid Mounds has been notable for both its significant role in native North American prehistory and for the central role the site has played in the development of modern archaeological techniques. The site had at least 11 substructure platform mounds (ranking fifth for mound-culture pyramids). Artifacts from the settlement link its major habitation and the construction of the mounds to the Mississippian period, but it was also occupied earlier during the Woodland period.


The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 for its significance as a major Native American mound center and prehistoric trading post along the Ohio River.[2]

The site as it may have looked like during its peak

Adjacent to the Ohio River, the site straddles the modern-day counties of Massac County and Pope County in deep southern Illinois, part of an area colloquially known as Little Egypt. The Kincaid site was the subject of major excavations by the University of Chicago from 1934–1941, during which a number of anthropologists and archaeologists who later had notable careers were trained under the direction of Fay-Cooper Cole; they included Richard MacNeish, discoverer of the origins of maize.[5] Exploration with new technology and excavations by teams from Southern Illinois University since 2003 have yielded significant new data.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency owns and operates[4] an area including several mounds in Massac County. This includes the majority of the estimated 141-acre (0.57 km2) area contained within a wooden palisade, as well as an undefined area of additional occupation to the west.[6] The Pope County portion is privately owned.[4]

When the University of Chicago excavated Kincaid in the 1930s and 1940s, nine mounds were identified on the site's Massac County portion. In 2003, a tenth mound was identified; a small mound that was later covered with a midden, it lies along the road almost straddling the county line on the southeastern corner of the town plaza. Chicago archaeologists excavated around this mound, but they chose to exclude it from their list of possible mounds due to a lack of clarity about its identity. Identification of this portion of the site as an artificial earthwork came after Southern Illinois University returned to the site in 2003 to re-excavate the hills that were thought to be possible mounds.[7]:138

History of Kincaid

The Chicago excavators in the 1930s documented a prehistory in the Kincaid area stretching back thousands of years, into what is now known as the Archaic Period (8000 to 2000 BC). The Chicago crew recognized this period as the Faulkner Component, which was described as a pre-pottery culture. Except for the lack of pottery, it was otherwise very like the subsequent cultures of the Early Woodland, such as the Adena culture (1000 to 200 BC).

A photo of the Kincaid Site showing (clockwise from left) mounds 7, 8, and 9
Diagram of site on one of three information plaques on display at site

Teams documented more intensive occupation in the ensuing Early Woodland and Middle Woodland periods. This involved a sedentary, semi-agricultural culture characterized by the use of limestone-tempered ceramics and the presence of permanent wooden houses. The Baumer culture, as it was called, was similar to the Adena and Hopewell cultures, with which it was contemporary. The Baumer occupation at Kincaid was shown to be extensive.

Occupation continued into the Late Woodland period. This period is known as the Lewis culture. The most notable occupation at Kincaid, however, is the Mississippian culture, which developed from the local Lewis community about 1050 AD. Kincaid was a near neighbor of Cahokia, only 140 miles (230 km) away, and is thought to have been influenced by its development as the major site of Mississippian culture. The people built at least 19 earthwork mounds during this period, mostly the characteristic Mississippian platform mounds. Since 2003 teams from Southern Illinois University have been conducting more intensive research.[8] A large central plaza, constructed by filling and leveling, was built at the center of the community; it is surrounded by the major mounds, one of which is almost 500 feet (150 m) long. None rivals the size of Monks Mound at Cahokia, but they are each very large by Mississippian standards; The platform mounds' heights range from 8 to 30 feet (2.5 to 9m).[9]

Large buildings atop the main mounds seemed to indicate temples or council houses. Carved figurines in coal and fluorite seemed to characterize the local iconography, with images showing connections to the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC). Trade for chert resources appeared to extend into Missouri, Tennessee, and other parts of Illinois. Several examples of Mill Creek chert, which came from quarries very near by, were found at the site. Mississippian culture pottery painted with a negative resist are also characteristic of the site. In the 1930s, the Chicago team excavated a major burial mound, Pope Mound 2, yielding further evidence for hierarchical social structures and Kincaid's status as a chiefdom. The mound contained a number of stone box graves and log-lined tombs similar to those frequently found to the south in the Middle Cumberland Valley of Tennessee.[10]

Mississippian-culture occupation at the site appears to have ended by 1400-1450 AD. No documented occupation by historic Native American tribes exists. The site was evidently abandoned, perhaps because of exhaustion of timber and game resources. It remained uninhabited until the arrival of American settlers three centuries later. Most arrived more than 400 years after the site was abandoned.

Kincaid Focus

Mississippian sites on the Lower Ohio River

In the lower Ohio River valley in Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana, the Mississippian-culture towns of Kincaid, Wickliffe, Tolu, and Angel Mounds have been grouped together into a "Kincaid Focus" set, due to similarities in pottery assemblages and site plans. Most striking are the comparisons between the Kincaid and Angel sites, which include analogous site plans, stylistic similarities in artifacts, and geographic closeness. These connections have led some experts to hypothesize that the builders and residents were of the same society.[11] The 300-400 year span in which these types of artifacts and sites are found is called the “Angel Phase”. It is broken up into three subphases:

Subphases Dates
Jonathan Creek 1000 - 1100/1200
Angelly 1200 - 1300
Tinsley Hill 1300 - 1450

Rare painted and incised sherds of Mississippian culture pottery have been found at all four sites, ranging from less than one percent near Kincaid to about three or four percent of the assemblage at Wickliffe. Some common pottery styles found in these sites include: Angel Negative Painted, Kincaid Negative Painted, and Matthews Incised. This pottery is shell tempered and ranges from the smoothed surface and coarser temper of Mississippi Ware to the more polished surface and finer temper of Bell Ware.[12]

See also


  1. National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. 1 2 "Kincaid Site". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
  3. Buchanan, Meghan E. (2007). Patterns of Faunal Utilization at Kincaid Mounds, Massac County, Illinois (Thesis). Southern Illinois University Carbondale. p. 40.
  4. 1 2 3 John E. Schwegman (2009). "Kincaid: A Prehistoric Cultural and Religious Center". Springhouse Magazine.
  5. Cole, Fay-Cooper; Robert Bell; John Bennett; Joseph Caldwell; Norman Emerson; Richard MacNeish; Kenneth Orr; Roger Willis (1951). Kincaid: A Prehistoric Illinois Metropolis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  6. "About Kincaid Mounds" (PDF). Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  7. Butler, Brian M., and Paul D. Welch. "Mounds Lost and Found: New Research at the Kincaid Site," Illinois Archaeology 17 (2005): 138-153.
  8. "Kincaid: A Prehistoric Cultural and Religious Center In Southern Illinois". Dr. John E. Schwegman. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  9. Pursell, Corin (2004). Geographic distribution and symbolism of colored mound architecture in the Mississippian Southeast (Masters thesis). Southern Illinois University Carbondale. p. 205.
  10. Brennan, Tamira K. (October 2009). Domestic Diversity at Kincaid Mounds. Midwest Archaeological Conference. Iowa City, Iowa. p. 2. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  11. Sherri L. Hilgeman (2000). Pottery and Chronology at Angel. University of Alabama Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-8173-1035-5.
  12. Sherri L. Hilgeman (2000). Pottery and Chronology at Angel. University of Alabama Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-8173-1035-5.

Further reading

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