Cahokia Mounds (Digging for the Past)

Lost cities #8: mystery of Cahokia – why did North America's largest city vanish?
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They were also early urban planners, who used astronomical alignments to lay out a low-scale metropolis of , people, featuring a town centre with broad public plazas and key buildings set atop vast, hand-built earthen mounds.

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The first professional, systematic excavations occurred in the 20th century and are ongoing, as the site has been officially protected by the state. This cribbing was found still in place but the main pole had been removed. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. From St. The displays are fantastic! At one time it covered approximately five square miles. Even in the early 's, archeologists recognized that there was something unique here, but the land continued to be used for farming for the next years.

The largest of these mounds was feet tall and covered 14 acres — and still exists today. But rather than developing, like London, into a modern metropolis, Cahokia is more like the fabled lost continent of Atlantis.

‘Its decline is a mystery’

Having become a major population centre around AD, by it was largely abandoned by its people — and no one is sure why. The mound-building Mississippians dominated a great portion of the eastern half of the present-day United States between and Many of their villages were established near trade routes or sources of water and food — but Cahokia was different.

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Though rich in timber, deer and fish from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the land was flood-prone — so why build there? Most of the change has nothing to do with the economy, but what we broadly call religion. Not unlike postwar America suburbs such as Levittown, Pennsylvania or Park Forest, Illinois, the Mississippians planned and built Cahokia — having successfully predicted that a population would flock to it.

They created a city that was between six and nine square miles in area, with earthen mounds inside its rough borders. The mound-building would have been backbreaking work, with the Mississippians digging up, hauling and stacking 55 million cubic feet over the course of a few decades, using no more than woven baskets to transport all that earth. Surrounded by a wooden palisade almost two miles in circumference, the town centre was where residents, pilgrims and leaders worshipped and held ceremonies.

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Most of the Mississippians lived on the other side of the palisade in rectangular, single-room homes about 15 ft long and 12 ft wide, with wooden-post walls covered with mats and a thatched roof. Far from being a collection of villages or campsites, the homes were linked by courtyards and pathways, forming shared physical connections not unlike contemporary streets.

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The habitants even plotted an east-west road that is essentially the route from the area to St Louis today. During its prime, Cahokia would have bustled with activity. Men hunted, grew and stored corn, and cleared trees for construction.

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Women tended to the fields and homes, made pottery, wove mats and fabrics, often performing work and social activity in the small courtyards and gardens outside each grouping of homes. The posts were re-erected and dubbed Woodhenge by archaeologists who began researching the area in Excavations since the 60s have yielded fascinating information about this ancient city.

Digging Into The Nacoochee Burial Mound

Scholars have found artistic stone and ceramic figurines; Brown was part of team that discovered a small copper workshop adjacent to the base of one of the mounds. Archaeological work has also discovered a mound containing mass burials. While the extent of it is debated, it appears the Mississippians may have conducted ritual human sacrifices, judging by what appears to be hundreds of people, mostly young women, buried in these mass graves.

Some were likely strangled; others possibly died of bloodletting. Four men were found with their heads and hands cut off; another burial pit had mostly males who had been clubbed to death.

East St. Louis artifacts

The people of Cahokia themselves may have both doled out and received a lot of this violence, since researchers have found no specific evidence of warfare or invasion from outsiders. Early maps do not agree on the location of the mound.

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However, the Patrick Map was more carefully surveyed than either the Thomas or Peterson-McAdams maps, and the location indicated by Patrick corresponds more closely to contemporary aerial photos and contour data. Stephen Peet made the following reference in The American Antiguarian:. Ramey, the owner of the mound, speaks about digging in one part of the field and finding heaps of bones eight feet deep, and says that the bones are everywhere present. The workmen who were engaged in digging ditches for under draining had a few days before they came upon large quantities of pottery and skeletons of large size, but had carelessly broken them instead of preserving them.