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Cahokia Mounds

CAHOKIA MOUNDS

CAHOKIA MOUNDS. This prehistoric settlement on the alluvial plain of the Mississippi River valley about four miles northeast of present-day East Saint Louis is the largest archaeological site north of central Mexico. Excavations at Cahokia began in the mid-twentieth century as salvage operations preceding construction of a highway. Major archaeological investigations were initiated in 1984 by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and its chief archaeologist for the site, Thomas Emerson. A focus of development of the Mississippian culture in the Midwest between a.d. 700 and 1350, Cahokia's population, estimated at between 10,000 and 25,000, probably peaked from a.d. 1000 to 1100. The site, covering six square miles and featuring at least 120 mounds (some ceremonial, some burial), was carefully laid out with horizontal compass orientations in mind. The ceremonial Monks Mound, the largest platform mound north of Mexico, towers about 98 feet high, with a base of about 984 feet by 656 feet. Many conical burial mounds have been excavated, showing clear signs of social stratification in the form of elaborate grave goods, sometimes imported from great distances. In one mound, a high-status male was buried on a platform of 20,000 cut shell beads.

While Cahokia was surrounded by an enormous log palisade 13 to 16 feet high and perhaps 2.4 miles in length, its decline does not seem to have resulted from outside


attack. Nor does any evidence exist to suggest that Cahokia engaged in wars of conquest. A chiefdom (lacking a standing army or police force) rather than a state, Cahokia may have declined for simple environmental reasons. While the maize agriculture introduced into the area around a.d. 750 sparked the rapid growth of the community and supported a relatively large population, it did not provide a balanced diet to the average Cahokian. Soil erosion may have also cut into productivity over time. Further, the enormous palisade required perhaps 20,000 large trees, which were replaced several times during Cahokia's heyday. This huge structure, plus the daily fire-wood needs of the Cahokians, put considerable strain on local woodlands. In addition, satellite communities arose, increasing the general area's population and placing still more demands on the local environment. Gradually, over perhaps fifty to seventy-five years, the population may have simply overwhelmed local resources. The anthropologist Timothy Pauketat of the University of Illinois, however, argues that political and religious failures by Cahokia's leaders were the primary reasons for the population's dispersal. For whatever reason, by 1350 Cahokia was abandoned.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fowler, Melvin L. The Cahokia Atlas: A Historical Atlas of Cahokia Archaeology. Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1989.

Mehrer, Mark W. Cahokia's Country side: Household Archaeology, Settlement Patterns, and Social Power. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1995.

Young, Biloine Whiting, and Melvin L. Fowler. Cahokia: The Great Native American Metropolis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

GuyGibbon

Robert M.Owens

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Cahokia and its Woodhenge

Cahokia and its Woodhenge

Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site in Illinois is the site of the largest prehistoric Native American city north of Mexico. The city covered six square miles of settlement and may have been inhabited by as many as 20,000 people sometime between 800 and 1400. The site includes Monks Mound, the largest earthwork in North America, rising 100 feet and consisting of four terraces that covered 14 acres and contained an estimated 22 million cubic feet of earth. Atop the great mound stood a ceremonial building 100 feet long and 50 feet high. Named for the Trappist monks who grew vegetables on the site circa 1809, it was later discovered that the mound served a forgotten people as both a temple and a palace.

It has been determined that the city was the principal ceremonial center of a vanished culture known as the Mississippian who occupied the area from around 1050 to 1250. At its peak around 1150, the city supported a population of as many as 20,000 people.

Many scholars believe that the customs of the Natchez people who inhabited the lower Mississippi Valley when French explorers encountered the tribe in the latter part of the seventeenth century may offer some insight into their ancestors. Unlike the other Native American tribes, the Natchez had distinct social classes who were governed by a ruler-priest known as the Great Sun, who was regarded as the representative of the Sun on Earth and was treated with godlike reverence by the members of his tribe. The Great Sun wore a headdress-crown of white swan feathers and was born aloft on a litter by devotees so his feet would not be defiled by contact with the earth. The Natchez, and it is supposed their vanished Mississippian predecessors, had elaborate funeral ceremonies which involved certain sacrifices. When Mound 72 was excavated, the burial pits of nearly 300 people were discovered, including what may have been as many as 53 young women who were sacrificed to honor the death of a great ruler-priest.

In 1961, Dr. Warren Wittry unearthed the remains of a circle of red cedar posts that may have been used as a solar calendar to note coming seasons and to help determine when to plant and when to harvest crops. The discovery was dubbed "Woodhenge," in recognition to its similarity to the circular arrangement known as Stonehenge in Great Britain.

Sources:

harpur, james. the atlas of sacred places. old saybrook, conn.: konecky & konecky, 1994.

thomas, david hurst. exploring ancient native america. new york: macmillan, 1994.

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Cahokia

Cahokia (kəhō´kēə), village (1990 pop. 17,550), St. Clair co., SW Ill., a residential suburb of East St. Louis, on the Mississippi River; inc. 1927. The first permanent settlement in Illinois, Cahokia's name is derived from a local Native American group. The French established a mission in 1699 and a fur-trading post later. Cahokia was occupied by the British in 1765 and captured by the Americans under George Rogers Clark in 1778. It has several buildings dating from the 18th cent. Parks College, part of St. Louis Univ., is there. Nearby are the Cahokia Mounds.

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Cahokia Mounds

Cahokia Mounds, approximately 85 Native American earthworks in Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, SW Ill., near East St. Louis; largest group of mounds N of Mexico. Monks' Mound, a rectangular, flat-topped earthwork, 100 ft (30.5 m) high with a 17-acre (6.9-hectare) base, is named for Trappist monks who settled there in the early 19th cent. The people who constructed the mounds were village dwellers who lived in a fertile river-bottom area; their culture flourished from c.1300 to c.1700. The mounds constitute a national historic landmark.

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"Cahokia Mounds." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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