Emerald Mound is the second largest prehistoric ceremonial mound in the United States. It is preserved by the National Park Service and stands near the Mississippi section of the famed Natchez Trace Parkway.
Covering nearly eight acres, the mound was used for a roughly 350 years by prehistoric Native Americans who were the ancestors of the Natchez Indians. Its builders were people of the Mississippian culture, a religious and political movement that spread across the Southeast and lower Midwest beginning in around A.D. 900.
The Mississippians are remembered today for their massive public works projects. They built huge platform mounds like Emerald, which takes its name from the historic Emerald Plantation that surrounded the mound during the 19th century. They also built smaller mounds that served for burial and other purposes and often surrounded their towns with ditches and fortified walls.
Archaeologists believe that construction on Emerald Mound began in around 1250 A.D. The massive mound rises in nearly pyramidal form to a flat topped surface. There, atop the main mound, are a series of smaller mounds that form a unique ceremonial complex. The largest of these smaller mounds atop the large mound likely was the base for a temple. The smaller ones were probably platforms for the homes of chiefs and key leaders.
The base of the huge mound was surrounded by a deep ditch or moat, probably built for defensive purposes. When the site was first seriously examined in the 1830s, this and other important features were clearly mapped. Emerald Mound has been the scene of periodic research since then, which is fortunate since plowing of the surface of the mound destroyed six of the smaller ones that once stood on its summit.
The ditch or entrenchment that surrounded the mound is also largely gone, along with most traces of other smaller mounds that surrounded the base of the large one.
Emerald Mound remained in private hands until 1950. The National Park Service was then developing the Natchez Trace Parkway, which passes just to the east of the site. To assure the preservation of the massive earthwork and to add a major archaeological site to the parkway, the previous owners donated the mound to the people of the United States. It was restored to its present appearance soon after.
A trail leads from the parking lot near the base of the mound to a stairway that helps visitors reach the flat platform of the top. Displays there provide information about the construction of the mount and the ancient Mississippian people who lived and worked at this ceremonial, cultural, trade and political center. A second stairway leads further up to the top of the largest of the small mounds that survive on its summit. The view of the entire site and surrounding area from that vantage point is spectacular.
Emerald Mound is open during daylight hours and more information can be obtained at the nearby Mount Locust visitor center on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
To reach the mound from Natchez, travel north on the Natchez Trace Parkway and watch for the signs. The exit to the mound is at milepost 10.3. Additional signs will lead you to Emerald Mound. See the map at the bottom of this page for more specific directions.
For a better view of the overall mound and good understanding of its size, watch this free drone footage: