Last weekend I took my family to the Criel Mound in South Charleston. It’s such a fixture in our area that it’s usually just called “the mound” and is used as a traffic landmark. We don’t talk about the mound so much as its relation to the shops and businesses that have grown up around it.
But I knew a little of the story and was curious. I asked my daughters what they knew about it. Little One had studied it just last week, but hadn’t mentioned it until I asked. Tall One learned about it last year, but remembered a little, too. My husband, who didn’t grow up around here, didn’t even know it was anything more than a hill.
It is much more than a hill.
It was built somewhere between 250 and 150 B.C.E. by people of the Adena culture. These mounds were built as memorial gravesites, much like the pyramids. Originally, this one was 33 feet high and 173 feet in diameter at the bottom. It once lay between two 566 foot wide “sacred circles”. This is the second largest burial mound in the state. The largest mound in the whole country is at (where else) Moundsville, West Virginia.
The mound was excavated in 1883-84 by the Smithsonian Institution. They found 13 skeletons inside. Two were near the top and the rest were at the base. Of the eleven at the bottom, one was a “giant” of nearly seven feet tall, laid in the center, with the others around him. There is evidence that not all of the others were dead when they were entombed with him. (Ew.) The skeletons and artifacts discovered with them, including jewelry and weapons, are now at the Smithsonian. Maybe we’ll have to go visit. I bet they don’t get many visitors from back home.
There were about 50 such mounds in about an eight mile span, most of which were destroyed as people claimed the land. The Criel Mound itself has been changed to suit modern times, the top was leveled off to create a judges’ stand for a horse racing track around the base.
What a shame. My girls felt bad that we were going to walk on the mound, but I told them it was OK, the people have been moved and it’s not a grave anymore. Somehow that didn’t really make it OK either. Still, we climbed and “enjoyed” the view, such as it is.
Surrounded by a car lot, factory and various shops, it was clear that the view around here is the mound itself.