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America's Forgotten City: The Cahokia Mounds

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Seems impossible a city as large as London existed only to be abandoned with no explanation. Also known as America's First City.

City of Cahokia

City of Cahokia

Cahokia Today

Cahokia Today

Ancient Cahokia

Over 650 years ago, before Columbus even thought of America, there was an immense sprawling town of thousands of pre-Columbian Native Americans. It was first occupied about 700 A.D. and flourished until about 1350 when it mysteriously was abandoned. The CAHOKIA MOUNDS today are located in southern Illinois, just eight miles from St. Louis, Missouri. One could drive right by on I-55, not realizing such a city existed back then. Especially one that at its peak held 25,000 to 50,000.

Why they left has continued to be a mystery as they left no writings or drawings. Although historians can't explain it, they have several ideas. The main idea seems to be climate change, then perhaps, war, disease, drought, or even flooding.

The mounds were built by the Mound Builders of America that consisted of various cultures, prehistoric, indigenous inhabitants that covered the Great Lakes through the Mississippi Valley as far as the Gulf of Mexico. The area surrounding the 2000 acres of the city was extremely fertile as the agriculture grown consisted of corn, sunflower, amaranth, squash, and beans. Because they were so successful, other cultures migrated to Cahokia, including some from the Ohio River Valley. In his book 1941, Charles S. Mann called Cahokia "the world's largest garden."

It is located in Collinsville, with an Interpretive Center complete with life-size displays, videos, a gift shop, and a snack shop. Currently, the Center is open by appointment only 1-618-346-5160, but the grounds are open Thursday through Sunday, 9-5p.m. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk every day. Each year over 300,000 visitors visit Cahokia, also known as America's First City.

They were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and then in 1982 a World-Historic Site (UNESCO). The site is an Interpretive Center by appointment only 618-346-5160, but the grounds are open Thursday through Sunday, 9-5 p.m.

The mounds were built over several decades and estimated to have used 50 million cubic feet or 14 million baskets of dirt hauled by hand by the people—the largest of the many mounds in MONKS MOUND, standing 100 feet high. A wall was then built surrounding Monks Mound stretching two miles with guard towers every 70 feet both as defense and as a social barrier between the elite and the common people.

Monks Mound got its name from the Trappist Monks, who lived in a close mound. Later they left the city.

Within the walls was where the people played the game of CHUNKEY. The game was an important sport of the people played with a stone disc rolled along with spears thrown as close as possible to the stopped disc. This game had deadly consequences as the losers and their family paid with their lives in ritual sacrifice.

Newspaper Article St. Louis News

Newspaper Article St. Louis News

Game of Chunkey

Game of Chunkey

Cahokia People

Cahokia People

Cahokia People

Cahokia People

Cahokia Trade Center

Cahokia Trade Center

Archaeological Excavations

During the 1960s construction of an interstate highway was being built when bones were uncovered. Dr. Warren Wittry, an archaeologist, was called in to preserve the site. Dr. Wittrey would spend 25 years dedicated to the site. In 1962, Dr. Robert L. Hall, an archaeologist, would join in excavations. Both discovered posts and circles and concluded they were significant sun solstices and designated them as Woodhenge Sun Calendars. They concluded the people were sophisticated in mathematics and astrology.

Mound #72 was an exceptional excavation uncovering the burial grave of a possible ruler called the Birdman. he was buried on a bed of 20,000 marine shells and disc beads. Other bodies buried close to him were those sacrificed to serve him in the next world.

Other mounds had bones and other artifacts, with excavations ongoing with so much more to be discovered.

Mound #72 Bones and Artifacts

Mound #72 Bones and Artifacts

Birdman Burial

Birdman Burial

References Used

altasonscura.com

Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1986

History of Cahokia Mounds, John J. Dunphy

The History of Cahokia Woodhenge.com

Cahokia Mounds: America's Last Metropolis, Springfield Magazine Vol.24, Nov

Academia.com

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 17, 2021:

Thank you for your visit. Amazing about the history of America. I do appreciate it.

Rosina S Khan on March 17, 2021:

It was nice to know about "The Cahokia Mounds” where Native Indians flourished for years before finally abandoning it. Thanks for sharing this interesting account of an America's forgotten city, Fran.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 17, 2021:

Thanks, Alicia. I appreciate your visit.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 16, 2021:

This is a very interesting article. Thank you for creating it, Fran. I would love to visit the area that you describe.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 16, 2021:

Peggy W, thanks for your visit. I appreciate it and I agree it is now preserved.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 16, 2021:

What a fascinating part of the history of which I knew nothing before reading this article of yours. I am glad that it is now preserved as a UNESCO site. Thanks for writing about it.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 16, 2021:

Pamela thanks for your visit. I hope you can visit them sometime. It seems like a special place of history to visit and so close to St. Louis.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 16, 2021:

This is a fascinating part of history, and it is all new to me. I would love to see the Cahokia Mounds. It is strange to think of Indians living there such a very long time ago. Thanks for a very interesting article, Fran.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 16, 2021:

Liz, thanks for the visit. Hard to believe a city completely gone from history. Glad it's a World-Historic Site now.Thanks again

Liz Westwood from UK on March 16, 2021:

This is a fascinating article. It reminds me of a film, 'The Dig', that I watched recently about the excavation of a mound at Sutton Hoo in the UK.

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