The hidden Native American history in WV’s burial mounds

West Virginia

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Not much has been written about the early Native Americans of West Virginia.

But archaeologist Darla Spencer has devoted her career to debunking the myths that surround west Virginia’s Native Americans.

A long-held-misconception among West Virginians, says Spencer, is that this was only a hunting ground for Native Americans.

Another is that giants built the burial mounds found throughout the state.

Spencer wants people to know that Native Americans did live and flourish in the Mountain State and the woodland mounds stand as a testament to this.

Despite being dug into, pillaged, and even demolished by early settlers who didn’t know what they were, the woodland mounds of West Virginia still remain a part of the state’s landscape.

“It’s a part of our history and a lot of mounds were not preserved,” said Spencer.

Spencer says she was captivated by the mounds since she was four-years-old, eventually becoming an archaeologist to research them.

“People kept saying ‘No, you don’t want to be an archaeologist, you’ll just end up working in a museum somewhere and it’ll be boring,” she said.

Instead, she’s written two books on early Native Americans in West Virginia and taught at West Virginia University.

Her second book “Woodland Mounds in West Virginia” is dedicated to the nearly 400 burial mounds that have been recorded in the Mountain State.

“When you look at the artifacts you find, I mean there are beautiful things in there; they have pipes, they have stones, they have pottery…,” she said.

The Native Americans built them to last forever, and they typically buried their honored dead in them.

Because the so-called “mound-builders” were gone by the time the first European settlers arrived in West Virginia, little is known about them, other than what they left behind in them.

“Just the richness of the cultures is something most people don’t know about,” said Spencer.

“Just the richness of the cultures is something most people don’t know about”

Darla Spencer, archaeologist

Today, a lot of what was discovered in the 1883 excavations of the mounds by the Smithsonian Institute is housed in the Smithsonian Museum Support Center in Maryland.

But she’ll tell you, here in West Virginia, it’s important to preserve what we have left.

If you’d like to learn more about the South Charleston Creel Mound featured in this video, the South Charleston Interpretive Center is dedicated to its history.

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