To celebrate the 4th of July holiday, OKPAN has compiled ten of the most stunning, well-known, heartbreaking, and archaeologically significant sites in the United States. Ranging from early Native American findings to historical archaeological sites from World War II, these sites showcase the depth of American history through the archaeological record. The history and beauty of North America found through archaeology is an excellent way to acknowledge and celebrate the peoples that have been here since before the European invasion. Likewise, the findings from colonization and onward provide a glimpse into the difficult, complicated history that has developed over the centuries. Starting with Paleoindian findings and working our way to World War II, these sites are some of the most fascinating, and mysterious archaeological wonders in the United States.
Located near Clovis, New Mexico is one of the oldest and most significant archaeological sites in the nation. The Blackwater Draw site is a Paleoindian site dating to about 12,000 years ago, when mammoths and other megafauna roamed the land. This site is where archaeologists first discovered the Clovis material culture. Clovis artifacts mainly consist of a unique type of projectile point, and they represent some of the Americas’ first inhabitants. The site was occupied several other times throughout history, but the discovery of Clovis is Blackwater Draw’s claim to fame.
Dating to AD 550 and located in the southwest of Colorado, Mesa Verde is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the United States. This national park includes the famous cliff dwellings and protected wilderness. The beautiful structures were home to the ancestors of the indigenous Pueblo people, including the structures known as Cliff Palace that held a minimum of 150 rooms!
Crystal River, Florida holds another US site for an ancient Native American mortuary complex. The Crystal River mound site consists of burial mounds as well as a temple mound, and it was occupied between roughly 200 B.C. and A.D. 800 – about 1,000 years! Crystal River features six mounds and is considered a ceremonial complex. It is also one of the most significant archaeological sites in the state of Florida. Archaeologists suggest that ancient Native Americans would travel thousands of miles annually to bury their loved ones here.
Located in the state of Illinois, and just 15 minutes away from the bustling city of St. Louis, Missouri, Cahokia is what remains of the most important Mississippian sites in America, ranging from about 700 to 1500 A.D. Spanning more than 2,200 acres, the landmark is distinguished by more than 80 mortuary and temple mounds build by prehistoric Native Americans. Cahokia was once an enormous complex, and the largest city in the Americas north of Mexico. It features Monks Mound in the center of the city, which was likely the residence of a tribal chief or a religious temple.
The area of Cahokia is also especially significant for my own history: it is miles away from Edwardsville and Collinsville, Illinois where my family originates from, and my childhood memories include speculating on the significance of the mysterious mounds I would see near my grandparents’ countryside home.
Right here in the state of Oklahoma, one of the most important and well-known sites for Mississippian culture (dating to about A.D. 800 – 1450) can be found near the town of Spiro. Mounds containing material culture including engraved shells and effigy pipes, some made from materials not found in Oklahoma, indicated an advanced trading system. The people at Spiro shared their horticulture, writing systems, and religious ceremonies with a vast number of other people in the area. As the only archaeological site in Oklahoma that is open to the public, Spiro is a must-see spot in the state.
The ruins at Pecos, New Mexico are an intriguing mixture of the cultural material of the Pueblo Native Americans and the arrival of the Christian Spanish. In one spot you will find a Kiva, a religious ceremonial structure of the Pueblos, while a Spanish colonial church structure dating much later sits just a few feet away. Not far from the Pecos ruins, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, rests the San Miguel Mission. Built around A.D. 1610, San Miguel is the oldest church structure in the United States. The juxtaposition of Pueblo and Spanish culture makes the Pecos and Santa Fe area one of the most fascinating spots to visit in the U.S.
7. Salem, Massachusetts
Just north of Boston in the state of Massachusetts lies one of the most mysterious sites in North American historic archaeology. The town of Salem is infamous for the witch hunts that occurred in 1692 and 1693, resulting in the public hangings of 19 accused individuals. The exact location where the hangings took place has been a mystery, but it is commonly thought to have been located at Gallows Hill. Archaeologists have employed geological methods to confirm the location as the place of death for the accused.
The historic archaeological site of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania is one of the most important landmarks of American history. Fascinating information regarding the battles of the Revolutionary War and the individuals involved, including General George Washington’s involvement of Native Americans in the fight, make this a multifaceted educational experience. Marking the location of the Continental Army’s encampment during the Revolutionary War, thousands of people visit Valley Forge annually. The best part – it is free to visit!
This swampland, found in Virginia and North Carolina, is a haunting, heartbreaking, and important site of North American archaeology. It is believed to have once been a hidden community for African American slaves leading up to the Civil War in 1861 and Native Americans seeking refuge from slave masters and European colonizers. Dr. Dan Sayer, the historical archaeologist who spearheaded excavations in the swamp, found many artifacts including the remains of cabins that he dated with the use of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL).
The archaeological remains at the Pearl Harbor naval base serve not only as a great example of historic archaeology, but also of underwater archaeology.
The site includes two Japanese submarines and two sunken US battleships. The attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most significant attacks on the United States, and excavations have given Americans a greater understanding of the “day that will live in infamy” as well as information regarding the advancement of Japanese technology in the 1940s.
The United States is rich with amazing archaeological sites that educate us about the past and inspire visitors to dig deep into the nation’s robust history. If you’re looking for an archaeologically enriched 4th of July destination, consider one of these amazing American locations!