In 1539, Hernando de Soto's Conquistadors landed in Florida in search of new lands and treasure for the Spanish Crown. Three years later, they were run off the continent by Native American warriors that lived on enormous, earthen pyramids along the Mississippi River. Who were these people? And how did they defeat one of the world's most powerful armies? Follow Josh Bernstein as he paddles down the bayous; builds his own earthen pyramid with modern equipment; and scuba-dives the cold, dark waters of Wisconsin to solve the mystery of America's pyramid builders.
America's Pyramids: "How great is it to explore another archaeological mystery in the USA! I mean, why should the international locations get all the attention, when we've got great stuff right here at home, right? So I'm off to explore "America's pyramids" which I've heard about for years but never once visited. My journey begins in the south..."
Natchez, Mississippi: "The Natchez site was first occupied around 750 A.D. and is considered by many to be the place where the mound culture made its last stand. To learn more about the importance of the mounds, I'm meeting with Grey Hawk Perkins."
Grey Hawk: "Grey Hawk is Houma, one of the descendents of the Mississippian cultures. He travels to native sites across the country, teaching people about indigenous cultures and leading holy ceremonies. He's a great guy, and I'm honored to smoke a "Friendship pipe" and visit my first mound with him. But I soon learn that there are mounds far older than this one, and that's where my quest is taking me—to find the oldest pyramid in North America."
Rock Lake: "There's a new book called "Dragon in the Lake" written by Archie Eschborn. It describes his belief that the rock structures below Rock Lake are man-made—and over 5,000 years old. These would be the oldest pyramids or mounds in the U.S. by far, so I feel a closer look is in order. With a little searching on the sonar, it's into the muck and murk to see, well, whatever I can see....25 feet below the surface, the green muck gives way, sure enough, to a big pile of stones. Problem is, I can't tell if these stones were put here by people or by Mother Nature. Archie makes his case, but local geologist Dr. Dick Boyd says a glacier, not people, put these stones here. Long story short, the issue is still hotly debated and not easily resolved.
So I'm taking my quest back to the south to visit a place in Louisiana called Poverty Point."
Don't Put Your Hand HERE: "I've been bitten and stung by insects hundreds of times. When I was a kid, a whole hive of bees attacked me. Actually, that happened to me twice, so I'm not usually worried about things like bees, or teeny, tiny fire ants. In fact, my initial reaction is to shake them off and continue on my merry way.... Well, things change quickly."
"The first symptom of anaphylaxis is local inflammation, followed by full-body hives, then itching, then difficulty breathing. I pass through these phases within minutes and realize that more critical counter measures are in order. My concern is that my throat swells shut and I suffocate, so a shot of epinephrine/adrenaline is critical. I know this from my training as a Wilderness First Responder for BOSS and we carry epinephrine on the trail for our courses. Fortunately, I happen to be have several ampules of "Epi" in my personal med kit for the show, too—but for OTHER people. I never thought I'd need it for myself. But 2 shots and 1cc of Epi later, my symptoms are starting to reduce. Unfortunately, that's only stage one, and my doctors (God bless them) advise me to get to a hospital ASAP before the toxins do damage to my heart or cause a relapse."
"Aside from being born, I don't think I've ever spent the night in a hospital. At least, I don't remember ever doing so. So I'm amused that it took this show and some teeny, tiny fire ants to send me to the ER and a hospital room for overnight observation. But apparently the fire ants in Louisiana are particularly potent and many people die from their sting every year. So I'm grateful to have had my med kit, and I'm grateful to Dr. Tucker and the staff at the Richland Parish Hospital in Delhi, La., for helping me through the whole ordeal."
"And, of course, the quest must go on."
Poverty Point: "Poverty Point is an amazing archaeological site. The history and significance of the place is overwhelming--it's perhaps the first "American civilization" with complex trade, societal structure and organization. At least, that's what T.R. Kidder and I are discussing as we hike the place. Me, I'm just happy to be hiking at all (my heart still hurts a bit from all the meds I just got) but this 70-foot mound clearly demonstrates how powerful the mound cultures could be. A mound of this size doesn't just happen...."
Tonka Toys: "To explore how hard it is to move dirt, I'm visiting with Charles Poole of the James Construction Group. Charles is the guy who usually builds highways, not mounds, but he's willing to give me some help--and the keys to his trucks! Driving them is about as much of a thrill as it looks–-my thanks to Charles for his trust and guidance making that thing move. Granted, it would have been nice to build a HUGE mound, but I get the idea and that's really what I came for here: moving dirt is not easy, even today. Back then, it was even harder."
Cahokia: "I first heard about Cahokia about 20 years ago, but I've never visited it before today. MAN is it huge!! And PPG-ing (Powered Para-gliding) is the only way to really take it all in. So I'm excited to have Bubba Peters and Eric DuFour back on the show to help me get up and over the mounds. Bubba and Eric are my PPG-partners-in-crime and it's always fun to hang with them. And the view!! Well, you can see for yourself."
Big, Bigger, Bigges: "Mounds are all about status. Position and size reflect the status of the person or people who lived on top, and John Kelly has the perfect challenge to help me appreciate just how high some of these mounds are. HIGH. Especially the big one. I think people take the mounds for granted, not realizing that the earth was flat before these piles of dirt were poured into these formations. THIS is the point--the mound builder culture was organized and could effectively mobilize toward a cause, whether it's building a mound or fighting an invader like DeSoto."
"And this is the advantage the Moundbuilders had over the Spaniards--they were well organized and able to launch a full-scale attack against the battle-worn and weary Spanish. I have no doubt that the gauntlet they had to run to Mexico was both exhausting and terrifying. And ultimately, this is what put an end to the Conquistadors."
"Why the Moundbuilder cultures collapsed or left is still unknown, but the mounds today are a testament to their strength, skill and sophistication."