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Work has begun on the new 350-mile Mississippi Mounds Trail, a project to help interpret and preserve the prehistoric earthworks, educate the public about Mississippi’s rich Native American history, and promote heritage tourism. Reaching from Desoto County to Wilkinson County and following the Highway 61 corridor, the trail will highlight thirty or more earthworks built by prehistoric American Indian groups.

Anchored by Winterville Mounds just outside Greenville and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians in Natchez, the trail will include interpretive markers and pull-offs at the mound sites. A driving tour brochure and smart phone application will provide a map and additional information about the history of each site.

The initial research phase of the project began this spring with a survey of existing information on forty-five mound sites and the production of detailed maps for planning and study. With this information in hand, this summer will be devoted to field investigations, including geophysical surveys, systematic coring, and limited excavation at a series of sites where the age and character of the mounds is still unknown. The work to date shows many of the mound sites have evidence of large-scale terrain modifications that took place before and during construction of the mounds themselves. The trail will feature the better-known mounds and mound groups, such as Lake George, Fatherland, and Carson, as well as lesser-known and poorly understood mounds, such as Lesslie, Bates, and Johnson Cemetery.

When the research phase is completed and interpretive signage has been produced, the Mississippi Department of Transportation will begin construction of the pull-offs and install the markers. The target date for completion of the trail is fall of 2014.

Dr. Vincas P. Steponaitis of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill is New Driving Trail To Link State’s Mounds conducting the research on the southern mounds, from Woodville to Vicksburg. Work in the southern Delta is under the directorship of Dr. H. Edwin Jackson of the University of Southern Mississippi, while the north Delta is being studied by Dr. Jay K. Johnson of the University of Mississippi. Retired Mississippi State University archaeologist John W. O’Hear is managing the work for MDAH.

The project is a partnership between the Mississippi Division of the Federal Highway Administration, MDOT, MDAH, and tribal participants, including the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, the Chickasaw Nation, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. Funding for the trail comes from an $800,000 Transportation Enhancement grant from the Mississippi Division of the Federal Highway Administration to MDOT.

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