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The people who inhabited the Spiro Mounds 1,000 years ago would have been terrified of an eclipse

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SPIRO, OKLAHOMA -- Taking a pleasant afternoon walk on a rare, cool August afternoon east of Spiro most people need a sign post to identify the small mounds of earth that circle this big one.

Or they need a knowledgeable guide like Dennis Peterson, who runs the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center.

"This is the Brown Mound or main temple mound," he points out.

"Political systems are really about control, not reality," he explains further.

From 700AD to around 1500AD this 150 acre plot stood at the center of a confederation and trading empire that included most of North America.

At the center of religious life there, the Mississippians most important symbol?

The sun.

Peterson says, "They also had a physical manifestation of the sun called the sacred fire or first fire."

"That's why they pray with it. They feed it. They smoke with it."

The earthen mounds here line up with solstices and equinoxes where religious leaders would commune with the creator through the first fire.

Then, every generation or so, something unexpected would happen.

An eclipse would darken the skies in daytime.

Peterson says that would have caused a lot of worry.

"They would go crazy," says Peterson.

"Would there be an emergency council meeting," asks a visitor?

"Very much so," he replies.

Of course the sun would come back out within a few minutes.

The priests would claim credit and everything would go back to normal.

Quoting a fictional high priest, Dennis says, "This is the reason. We fixed it. And look. The sun didn't disappear again."

In 2017 Peterson expects the current Spiro Mounds residents to be confused again.

The lead story from a thousand years ago, in a capitol city, a little worrying and a lot of wondering.

Skip ahead to another eclipse in the 21st Century, maybe a little less worrying but still that same sense of wonder.

For more information on the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Park go to http://www.okhistory/sites/spiromounds