Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Off the Trail: Cahokia Mounds

Mound 72 from the Visitor Center

July 12, 2017

There are times when I realize that there are huge gaps in my education about the history of North America.Today is one of those days.We were at an Illinois State Historic Site the other day gathering information about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. One of the volunteers asked “Have you seen the Cahokia Mounds?"

I admitted my ignorance and she went on to explain that there was a prehistoric Indian site only a few miles away that was also preserved as a State Historic Site.
Not just any prehistoric Indian site, Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico and includes the largest earthen construction in the Americas.
Cahokia Mounds has been designated a US National Historic Landmark (1965) and a World Heritage Site (1982) for its historical significance.
How did I not know that this site exists?
I used to blame educational gaps on the fact that I changed schools so frequently growing up in a military family, but Fred wasn't aware of Cahokia Mounds either.
Teacher friends is this part of today’s curriculum or does American History still begin with European colonization?
There is evidence of ocupation of this land from AD 600. People lived here, not far from the Mississippi River and found the rich fertile land to be proper for planting crops and developing an agriculture based society. They grew seed crops like squash and pumpkins. Most importantly they grew corn, a crop that could be dried and stored to feed them during winter months.
Small groups grew, banded together and formed an organized community with a complex structure that included a ruler, an elite class, tradesmen and workers.  
The residents built large mounds, a grand plaza surrounded by a stockade, and a Henge type structure made of wood that is thought to have been a solar calendar.

Artifact found at Cahokia Mounds
Archeological excavation estimates that the population was between 10,000 to 20,000 at the highest. Sometime around AD 1200 that number began to decline and the community was totally abandoned by the 14th century.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site protects 70 mounds on 2200 acres. There are 10 other mounds outside of the parks land.

Monk's Mound. 154 steps to the top. You can see the second staircase to the right of the first at the top of the picture.

The tallest of the mounds is Monk’s Mound, named after a group of Trappist monks that lived near it 1809-1813, 400 years after the original inhabitants had abandoned it.
The mound is 100 feet tall.
It’s base covers 14 acres of land.
It is estimated to contain 22 million cubic feet of dirt, dug by hand and carried in baskets.
Monks Mound is built in 4 terraced sections. It was built as a platform for buildings. Digs have found evidence at the top of the 4th terrace that a structure measuring 104 feet by 48 feet once stood there.
Monks Mound was built in a rectangular platform style and is thought to have held the homes of the ruler and his family as well as a ceremonial space that served as the seat of government.

Fred standing on the edge at the top of Monk's Mound
There is now a concrete staircase that allows you to climb to the top with 154 steps. It was over 100 degrees that day but we made it to the top.
The other 69 mounds are scattered over the 2200 acres. They do not appear to have any particular order or arrangement. Some are round or conical, some are called ridge top. A few have been identified as burial sites.
Archaeological excavations are ongoing and employ volunteers.
We were given information about the application process and have put Spend some time digging in Illinois dirt on our must do list.

St Louis from the top of Monk's Mound

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
30 Ramey St.
Cahokia, Illinois

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