By Leah Greggo
The site of the McKees Rocks Native American burial mound is located just four miles outside of downtown Pittsburgh in the Ohio Valley. The mound was built by the Adena people, who are well known for mound building, and later used by the Hopewell people. It is thought to have accumulated over a period spanning 500 BCE- 1000 CE. The actual mound, which was the largest in Western Pennsylvania at sixteen feet tall and eighty-five feet wide, no longer exists. In the early 1900s, the bluff that the McKees Rocks mound sat on top of began to be quarried for the rock beneath it and this slowly destroyed the mound. It was also common for children and amateur archeologists to dig around in the mound so it is likely that many artifacts have made their way into homes across Pennsylvania. Today the area looks much like other industrial areas of Pittsburgh.
Generally, mounds were used as part of burial rituals and for other ceremonial purposes. Like in many other cultures, burial and honoring the dead are important rituals to Native Americans. Learning about these kinds of practices gives great insight into the religious culture of a people. The only part of the mound that has been preserved are artifacts recovered when the mound was excavated by the Carnegie Museum in 1896. When the McKees Rocks mound was excavated, 33 bodies were found buried among various other objects such as pieces of pottery and beads. It is likely that those buried in mounds were either important members or leaders of tribes or members of the upper-class in Adena society.
There has been some recent controversy surrounding the McKees Rocks mound. In 2010 there was a protest, led by Eugene Strong, demanding that the bodies and artifacts stored at the Carnegie Museum be returned to the mound. Strong, who is the founder of The Mound Society of Western Pennsylvania and a descendent of a Pottawatomi Indian; stated that the mound is actually larger than has been reported by archeologists and that it still exists today. This has been denied by both the Carnegie Museum and by the Seneca people, who in 2008 climbed the bluff where the McKees Rocks mound was located and determined that there was nothing left after years of destruction.
A lot of myth has surrounded burial mounds in American history. In the Colonial era, there were many theories about who built the mounds, from ancient Hebrews to the Aztecs. In actuality, mounds like the McKees Rocks mound were sacred cultural, social, and spiritual locations for Native Americans like the Adena and Hopewell peoples. The destruction of the McKees Rocks mound is an important reminder that there is a rich history of Native American culture in Pittsburgh that has been either been exploited, not well preserved, or ignored. In order to fully understand the history of religious practice in Pittsburgh, learning about Native rituals is vital.
“McKees Rocks Area, 1876,” Theresa Sulzer. Drawing of the Mckees Rocks mound and surrounding area in 1876.
Clay, R. Berle. “THE ESSENTIAL FEATURES OF ADENA RITUAL AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS.” Southeastern Archaeology, vol. 17, no. 1, 1998, pp. 1–21. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41890386. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
McConaughy, Mark. “Spotlight Series: Mckees Rocks Mound.” Pennsylvania Historic Preservation, Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, 15 Apr. 2015, https://pahistoricpreservation.com/spotlight-series-mckees-rocks-mound/. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
“Mckees Rocks Mound Historical Marker.” ExplorePAHistroy.com, https://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-205. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020
Sostek, Anya. “Ancient Indian Burial Mound in the Rocks?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7 Aug. 2010, www.post-gazette.com/local/west/2010/08/07/Ancient-Indian-burial-mound-in-the-Rocks/stories/2010008070175. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
How to Cite
MLA: Greggo, Leah. “Mckees Rocks Burial Mound.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 22 September 2020, https://religyinz.pitt.edu/mckees-rocks-burial-mound/.
APA: Greggo, Leah. (2020, 22 September). Mckees Rocks Burial Mound. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/mckees-rocks-burial-mound/.
Chicago: Greggo, Leah. “McKees Rocks Burial Mound.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 22 September 2020. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/mckees-rocks-burial-mound/.