Located northeast of Saint Louis, Illinois, Cahokia was once the center of Mississippi culture and the largest pre-Columbian city north of Mexico. At its best, it had up to 40,000 residents, but was abandoned around 1600. The 120 mounds of earth, so-called mounds, were partly used as graves and are silent witnesses of a highly developed culture of which little is known.
Cahokia Mounds: Facts
|Official title:||Cahokia Mounds (prehistoric settlement)|
|Cultural monument:||Prehistoric, hilly settlement traces, presumably of sacral importance and location of the residences of dignitaries, with names such as Jesse Ramey (Mound 56), Kunneman 8 (Mound 8), Kunneman 6 (Mound 6) with a north-south extension of 22 m and an east -West extension of 30 m or Grandpa’s (Mound 30) and Monk’s Mound on the banks of Cahokia Creek|
|Country:||USA, Illinois / Missouri|
|Location:||on the eastern outskirts of St. Louis|
|Meaning:||a testimony to the pre-Columbian civilization on the Mississippi|
Cahokia Mounds: History
|900-1150||probably the time of origin of Monk’s Mound|
|1050-1250||Settlement with an extension of 13 km², of which 0.8 km² is occupied by residential buildings, post-supported rectangular houses with adobe stacking|
|1735-52||French mission station|
|1831||first assumption that the hills are not of natural origin, but were created|
|1883||Publications on archaeological research|
|1922||scientific investigations of Monk’s Mound and evidence for its artificial system in probably 14 “construction phases”|
|1971||Excavations by archaeologists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee|
|2002-2010||Excavations bring among other things. a copper workshop to the daylight|
Enigmatic earth pyramids in the Mississippi Valley
When Christopher Columbus anchored on the coast of the Caribbean island of San Salvador in 1492, he discovered a previously unknown, but by no means deserted, cultured continent. In the valley of the broad Mississippi River – on today’s state border between Illinois and Missouri – there was already an Indian civilization at that time, the remains of which are admired by today’s viewers. The area was settled around 700 AD by Indians of the so-called Woodland culture. Two hundred years later, Cahokia, as the settlement was called in the late 17th century by French missionaries after an Indian tribe living there, had already turned into a regional center of the so-called Mississippi culture. This was characterized by the intensive cultivation of corn, beans, pumpkin, sunflowers and tobacco, which formed the prerequisite for dynamic population growth and the development of complex political, social and religious organizations. Science can only speculate about the reasons why there was a population decline at the end of the 13th century and a century later no one was living in Cahokia. Harvest failures caused by climate change were probably responsible for this.
During its heyday from the 11th to the 13th centuries, it is estimated that up to 20,000 people lived in wooden, grass-roofed houses that were lined up in rows or lined with squares and courtyards. The core of the settlement was surrounded by a three-kilometer-long and five-meter-high picket fence made of at least 15,000 tree trunks that were close together. Watchtowers rose at intervals of 25 meters from which archers could target possible attackers. Presumably the builders covered the fortifications with a layer of clay as protection against fire and moisture.
Not only the fact that Cahokia was by far the largest city in North America at the time of America’s discovery makes it an attractive sight, but also the approximately 120 mysterious mounds, many of them in pyramid shape with flattened tips. For a long time, scientists puzzled whether these hills were created naturally, because the “primitive” natives of the continent were not believed to be capable of architectural masterpieces. After detailed investigations, it turned out beyond any doubt that they had been artificially piled up and that the flattened tips provided space for the houses of the chiefs and temples of the priests.
The Monk’s Mound, the largest prehistoric ceremonial hill in the New World ever built by human hands, still rises – originally a 33 meter high mountain, for the construction of which more than 600,000 cubic meters of earth had to be dragged in wicker baskets. Other mounds were round or oblong in shape and were used for burial of dignitaries. Excavation near Monk’s Mound from 2002 to 2010 brought to light a copper workshop. Copper plates and ceremonial earrings with religious themes were found.
Several of these mounds fell victim to agriculture and road construction over the past centuries, and only about two dozen have been studied by archaeologists to date. Copper from mines on Lake Superior, shells from the Gulf of Mexico, arrowheads from quarries in Oklahoma and minerals from the southeastern United States were found – indications that Cahokia had trade connections with other parts of the North American continent.