Poverty Point Rings – No Longer Secret

Artists conception of the Poverty Point archaeological site near Epps, Louisiana at it’s height. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the spring of 2014, only the 22nd in the United States to be added to the World Heritage List and the first in Louisiana. Oil painting, 24″ x 36″, 2014.

Poverty Point in northeastern Louisiana’s Bayou Macon is a place I missed when traveling. I hope more archeological work brings light to the ancient culture that lived there. 11,000 years ago, an ancient community, perhaps called Koroa or Colewa, spread over 700 square miles. 6,000 years ago, about the same time the Egyptians began the pyramids, these mound-builders, lacking stone, began their earthworks. By 1,500 BC Poverty Point processed the largest earthworks in the Western Hemisphere along its river.

Famous for its six semi-circular rings or ridges (like effigy mounds) that measure three-fourths of a mile from north to south and cannot be seen well from the ground, Poverty Point’s rings were spotted in a 1938 aerial photo. Poverty Point also has six mounds: The largest is 70 feet high and 700 feet long . Others have various shapes, including a two-story high flat-topped platform with a ramp above its levees.

The Place

The Poverty Point Macon Ridge, left after the Ice Age, is 130 miles long and rises out of marshlands, brackish lakes, and in a salt water littoral zone. Its C-shaped earthworks with a central plaza could have been the site of dances and ballgames. The area’s climate had been rainy, soggy, muddy but not prone to floods.

Louisiana - Poverty Point - Karte (English version).png

How much dirt did it take? One estimate is 230,000 cubic yards of fill or about 17,000 large dump truck loads. Another estimate claims it took up to 1 million cubic yards which, using baskets and deer hide sacks to bring earth from the eastern side of the ridge, would have taken 100 laborers between 21 and 24 years working every day to build the standing earthworks alone.

Poverty Point People

The people of Poverty Point hunted, gathered, traded, and, of course, fished the river with nets and traps. It’s imaged their faces and bodies were painted red, white and brownish red and decorated with tattoos. They had beads, feathers, and deer antlers for decoration and travelled in dugout canoes. They built house and hearths on top of rings. With a mild climate and abundant plants and animals, the population around 1350 BC has been estimated at between several hundred to one thousand.

They dug wild potatoes and hunted with darts or throwing sticks. With some alligators and no bear, perhaps a few mountain lions, there were few dangers. They grew no corn, but picked grapes, wild plum, and squash, and gathered black walnuts, pecans, and acorns. A large starchy fungus called Tuckahoe looked like a coconut, was dried then grated. They hunted turtles, squirrels, other small mammals, and a few deer.

With no rock in the area, they imported and traded obsidian from Wyoming and tons of rock quartz and crystal. They traded from as far north as northern Michigan to the Gulf and from the East Coast west into Arkansas.

My People of the Rings

In The Pharaoh and Librarian, I chose Poverty Point as a safe place for Alex to settle for a while on her journey. As a pregnant widow, she needed a gentle climate and welcoming people. I imagined a village sharing labor, dancing, and storytelling upon the rings while also busy gathering of wild foods and fishing. In truth I imagined a community more isolated and peaceful than it would have been, considering Louisiana has more than 700 mound sites.

 “The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point: Place of Rings” by Jon L. Gibson

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Cleopatra in Arizona – Pre-Columbian Travel in the Americas

What if Cleopatra faked her death and escaped on a pirate ship? While her sister sailed for Wales with the most valuable ancient books from her Library of Alexandria? And they both landed in an imagined new world filled with crypto-creatures and historical humans?

Trekking to the desert of 1st century New Mexico, Cleo from the Yucatan and Alex from Nova Scotia, they’d need bravery and help from friends and lovers to evade inner demons and determined villains across an uncharted wilderness.

Alternate history- Fantasy-Romance – Adventure!      


Journey Map

“The Pharaoh and the Librarian” is the story of two journeys from the Old World to the New – in the first century, a few hundred years before Columbus sailed.

These early Western settlers travelled to Chaco Canyon in what’s now northern New Mexico with books from the Library of Alexandria.

Cleopatra’s journey passes through where I live in northern Arizona and gave me the opportunity to imagine what my home area was like 2,000 years ago. After surviving Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, Cleopatra and her Mayans used the “Green” River as their passage north. They find the ancient salt mine and a meteorite buried in a feathered cloth, and visit the people in the Montezuma Castle cliff dwellings.

Next they travelled on to Sedona. As those who have visited Sedona know, it’s a spectacularly beautiful place and can also guess it’s easy to make fun of the tourist mecca’s crystal culture. (Around here, they say you really have to love Sedona to make fun of it.) In Sedona the visit the already ancient Palatki Ruins and are chased off to New Mexico when Sunset Crater erupts. (I took the liberty moving the eruption into my timeline.)

Each of the places the sisters visit took research: Anglesey Island, Chichen Itza, Rarámuri, Hopewell culture, and more since there’s little firsthand reporting available. Some research was geographical, for example how Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes would have looked. Other research involved the archeological evidence of Cahokia and Poverty Point. I’d visited Cahokia and Chaco Canyon and recommend both as a small glimpse into what North America must have been like before Columbus.

I loved writing about the sister pharaohs’ journeys and invite you to travel along. Just don’t be surprised to find a bit of fantasy.

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The letter Alexandria, already voyaging to Nova Scotia, receives from her sister Cleopatra:

Alex read the letter written in Cleo’s hand:

To Alexandria, Librarian of the Library of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt

Dear Alex, Mirror of My Life,

To be blunt—I live.

Please forgive your errant sister for her deceit. I truly feared for my life from the Romans. My only choice was to fake my death. I thought the asp an ironic end to my life as Pharaoh Queen, for you know well my phobic fear of snakes. A most trusted servant begged to dress in my regalia and let Octavian’s Legionnaires find her, while I, clad in her rude tunic, face bare of kohl—if can you imagine me so—fled through back alleys to the harbor with only a few slaves and possessions. By prearrangement, thank Thoth, in a most desultory warehouse, a Bedouin princess dressed me in the desert robes of a common herder. The horrific fabric still smelled of goat. From there she led me to a trading ship. That crude vessel carried me along the coast to a pirate lair. There the pirate king, a disgustingly handsome rogue, agreed to take me—this, dear sister, you will not believe—to the New Land. By the time you read my words I will be on the high seas aboard a pirate ship.

I know your first dire question, after my personal safety, of course. Yes, I have with me books and scrolls I secreted from your precious Alexandrian Library. Over the years I purloined a small but rare collection. You librarians will never develop foolproof security. Most preceded me to the new land. Fear not, I am determined to keep these tomes safe and vow to preserve my own self.

No more Roman lovers for me. I have promised myself to the Chi-Ah-Ah, Emperor of the Mayans. I travel to the Yucatan to become the Empress of this lusty young athlete. His family promises me pyramids of riches.

For now, I suffer this rough sea voyage with the Barbary prince Gaspar Lupaster. I envy you, cloistered one, safe in your bookish sanctuary.

Your loving sister, fearful she will never look into your eyes again,

Cleo, VII



What If Cleopatra Faked Her Death? Excerpt

The Pharaoh and the Librarian is a work of fiction. Alternative fiction. “What if” fiction. Everyone thinks they know the historic Cleopatra. They’ve seen the movies, read the books, and heard of her in history classes, yet much is based on writings of Roman historians.

Cleo grew up privileged, had her food tasted, participated in grand processions, and worked hard to achieve an excellent education. She studied long hours and learned languages, public speaking, and the arts of diplomacy.

She ascended the throne at 18 and received the serpent crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. She married her two half-brothers and (probably) killed them. Cleo VI, one of her sisters, vanished. And then came the Romans: Julius and Marc. She made herself into the goddess Isis and hoped her people forgot she was Greek. She died (according to Roman reports) in 30 BCE at the age of 39. Supposedly, she was buried with Marc Antony. Although reports suggested their tomb was to be found in a temple to Osiris, west of Alexandria, this tomb has never been found.

No Tomb! What if…

I took what we know of Cleo and imagined a woman used to power. A woman who was strong enough to challenge the Roman Empire, did not fear war, and became the greatest female ruler in history. I saw her as addicted to power: proud, over-confident, demanding, materialistic, and sometimes a comic character.

Excerpt – Cleo – Alexandria, Egypt

Cleo’s kohl-shaded eyes flashed with impatience. Marc Antony was in another of his depressed moods. He looked not at all like the bold legionnaire who’d conquered lands and promised her an empire.

Marc groaned, upended his wine glass, and slumped back into that pose that so infuriated her, elbows braced against her table, hands supporting his un-shaven chin. She poked his shoulder with one red-tinted fingernail. His cleft chin slid off his palm and his head hit the table nose first. He grumbled, “Bring me more wine.”

“Now is no time for drink.” She herself desperately wished for a pitcher of the fermented grape juice to transform her world into blissful oblivion. “We must make a plan.” Cleo pushed aside her drinking cup encrusted with the amethysts many believed prevented intoxication. She knew better.

Marc groaned. “All is lost. Octavian’s army is to the east. And Cornelius Gallus on the western border.” He raised up. “Wait! We can escape to India.”

Cleo shook her head. Marc made no sense. She’d have to devise her own plan.

He slumped, then rose again. “I thought you loaded your ships onto rollers to sail them across the desert.” He waved his arms, pointing east, then west.

“Octavian’s allies burned my ships.” She rolled her eyes. He was useless.

“What about our families?” He scratched his cheek. “Certainly they will help. My sweet daughter Fulvia Antonius loves me.” His face softened into a dreamy grin. “She favors me so.”

“Fulvia is but sixteen. An ambitious girl who fancies herself more legionnaire than Roman maiden. Remember, her mother died bereft at losing you.” In Rome Cleo had seen the hatred in that daughter’s yellow eyes. “She would as leave slay me and carry you back to Rome. Once you mentioned an ancient Roman ancestor on her mother’s side. Perhaps Fulvia has inherited werewolf talents? Some Roman families trace their lineage back to the pups of Romulus.”

He shook off her words with a head shake strong enough to bounce his curls.

Cleo hated it when Marc fell back into Roman thinking, unable to speak badly of noble families. “Your Roman families are allied with Octavian. My incestuous family would rather kill each other than battle other enemies.” Except Alex. Kind, gentle Alexandria would never harm a soul.

“Your sister Alexandria! Of course. We could hide out in her library until we obtain a ship to take us to some sumptuous port.”

“I will not involve Alex in this mess. I haven’t seen her since she and I last visited the Sphinx. My beloved librarian sister will never leave the safety of her library. She’s shy. The world has forgotten she’s a Ptolemy. I refuse to endanger her life.”

“We could flee and find a villa in Greece or a house along the Nile. Just live quietly.”

Cleo’s kohled eyes looked to the ceiling. “You are such a dreamer. It’s too late for that.”

“The only answer for a noble Roman is to fall on his sword.” Marc stumbled to his feet, shouted, “Where’s my sword?” then crumpled onto an ebony chair.

Cleo shook her head at his snoring form. Useless. “Like Julius? He fell on someone else’s sword. Fifteen times.”

Why couldn’t her life be like that last trip with Alex to the Blue Lotus Oasis? She remembered that perfect day. Before she stepped from the chariot into their purple silk tent servants had cleared the area of snakes. As the sun slid below the desert horizon, the sisters bathed in a sun-warmed pool, sipped wine and feasted on dates and figs steeped in cinnamon honey. She plucked ten of the blue lotus blossoms, each the size of her palm, and tossed the mauve flowers to a servant, with an order to boil them into a strong tea. Cleo denied she craved the flower’s power. She claimed only to enjoy their relaxing euphoria. But right now she would give a kingdom for the strong lotus tea to take her to oblivion.

Distracted from her musing by the waft of sweet perfume, she looked up. A tall, graceful form stood in the doorway, elegant as any noble woman—if a noble woman wore the head of a cat. Alert ears, broad smooth nose, gentle eyes with long alluring lashes, and a face overlaid with golden fur.

“Bastet, whatever are you doing here? You’ve certainly not come to catch mice or cobras.”

The goddess’s golden cat eyes flashed. “You have neglected my temple, so I came to you.”

“I have no time to worship at every temple in Alexandria. Haven’t you heard I may lose my kingdom?”

“The streets are filled with talk of nothing else.” Bastet’s fingers stroked her wide gold and lapis collar.

“Then leave me alone.”

“I am the daughter of Isis and Ra, sister to Apollo,” the cat goddess purred. “I protect women and children.”

“Have you come to protect me and my children? You owe me that.”

Bastet’s velvet cheeks sagged and her eyes narrowed. “I brought you love, fertility, and joy for many years. You were never grateful. Your children now face danger beyond my powers. I am no longer the great lion goddess of Lower Egypt.”

Cleo snapped back, “I attended all your feasts of drunkenness. I purchased prodigious amounts of wine to honor you. Now Romans prepare to crush me. You must save me.”

“You angered Rome by taking their men and flaunting your kingdom’s riches. Now they want all you have. No one stands with you. All have deserted you.”

Sometimes Cleo hated these insolent Egyptian gods. “My sister…”

“Your sister is safe. That is all I came to tell you. Now I travel out of Alexandria with my dear Anubis. We will stay with Sebek and Tuareret in their river palace until Egypt is at peace again.”

As Bastet turned and stalked out of the chamber, Cleo called after the cat, “You go with the dog to play with the crocodile and hippo? You have all deserted me.” Her gaze returned to the sleeping Marc. She had an escape plan up her imperial sleeve.


What if Cleopatra faked her death and escaped on a pirate ship? While her sister sailed for Wales with the most valuable ancient books from her Library of Alexandria? And they both landed in an imagined new world filled with crypto-creatures and historical humans?

Trekking the desert of 1st century New Mexico, Cleo from the Yucatan and Alex from Nova Scotia, they’d need bravery and help from friends and lovers to evade inner demons and determined villains across an uncharted wilderness.

Amber Polo, constantly asking “What if…?” has a hard time writing in one genre at a time. Best known for The Shapeshifters’ Library series which asked what if librarian dog-shifters faced book-burning werewolves, she shares her love of libraries and fascination with creatures and places, real and not-so-real in The Pharaoh and the Librarianwww.amberpolo.com

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