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Elegant Figures

Map of the Ancient Mississippi

May 11th, 2011 by Robert Simmon

Historic flooding along the Mississippi River gives me an excuse to show another of my favorite maps, from Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River.

Map of relic meanders on the Mississippi.

This map, published in 1944, shows the location of the Mississippi for the past 1,000 years or so.

Each color represents an old channel, dating back 1,000 years or so. Those that correspond to historical records are dated, while older channels are ordered according to the principle of superposition (newer sediments on top of older ones). Many of the surface layers are still visible in satellite imagery. High-resolution, geolocated maps from Cairo to the Gulf, along with major tributaries, geological maps, and cross sections, are distributed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

15 Responses to “Map of the Ancient Mississippi”

  1. sanford sapoff says:

    change the design of the cities and don’t try to change a river!

  2. Delta Willis says:

    How do I get a url for the overlay you feature but lower on the river, at the confluence of Arkansas and Missisippi near quads for Big Island or Watson?

  3. EHJ says:

    When will we learn, don’t screw with Mother Nature?

  4. Kit Fuller says:

    Excellent information, but an unfortunate choice of colors for the red/green color-blind.

  5. Robert Simmon says:

    Delta: On the US Army Corps of Engineers page I pointed to, there’s a series of links under “documents” along the left hand side of the page. You can download the full report, scans of the plates, and orthorectified plates. They’re very large zipped archives.

    Kit: You’re right, although I think the colors have faded a bit. The originals may have been better.

  6. Peter Curia says:

    Levees are a disaster. Rivers need flood plains and no structures should ever be built in them.

  7. Adrian says:

    I have always been intriqed when it comes to ‘ mother earth ‘ . Can’t get enough , and don’t know enough to ask the right questions !

  8. Harry Mc Laughlin says:

    I agree with Peter, it makes no economic sense to build on floodplains.

  9. David Perry says:

    So I also agree with Peter and Harry, we also would save on money helping people with thear dameged homes

  10. Margaret Eaton says:

    Anyone know if there are reprints of this map available for purchase?

  11. Robert Simmon says:

    Margaret: I don’t know of anyone selling prints, but you could download some of the TIFFs (links above) and print them via Zazzle, Cafe Press, or a similar service.

  12. Jerrilee Cain says:

    Please tell me how to get a map of the northern Mississippi alluvial valley . . . the area between Keokuk, Iowa,
    and Memphis, TN. Are they available ?

  13. Bruce L. Manzano says:

    It would be neat to track the locations of prehistoric sites along this meandering maze to see where people put their villages, monuments, and cemeteries.

  14. Robert Simmon says:

    The entire set of maps is available here:

  15. Thomas Klekamp says:

    Margaret: The original sets of Harold Fisk’s maps are collector’s items. A geologist with whom I worked years ago had a set in his office. His father was Exploration VP of Humble, for whom Fisk was chief of geologic research. You can download TIFF images of the maps from the Corps of Engineers website.

    There is a newer set of geologic maps of the Lower Mississippi Valley, by Saucier, R. T., 1994, Geomorphology and Quaternary Geologic History of the Lower Mississippi Valley: U. S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi.published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They are mapped at a scale of 1:100,000 and bound in folio form. There is also a text which accompanies the maps, which still might be available for purchase. Go to: