Tour America's Treasures


An invitation to tour America's historical sites...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cahokia Mounds



View Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Illinois page to see the entire tour of the state’s
Save America’s Treasures sites.
Aerial view of Monks Mound, the largest of the huge earthen mounds
at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Photo courtesy of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
30 Ramey Street
Collinsville, IL

Please note that Cahokia Mounds is not in the city of Cahokia.  It is located in Collinsville.


The Treasure:  By studying the enormous earth mounds and their associated artifacts, archaeologists are slowly unraveling the story of a great pre-Columbian urban complex that existed in the heartland of the North American continent.

Accessibility:  During the peak summer season, Cahokia Mounds is open daily from 9 to 5. Check the website for winter hours (generally closed Monday and Tuesday).

Archaeological dig at Cahokia Mounds.
Photo courtesy of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Background:  Places like Cahokia Mounds remind us how little we comprehend about pre-Columbian America. Thanks to the patient work of archaeologists, we know that a great urban center existed at Cahokia one thousand years ago, serving a powerful and complex culture. But how many lay people have incorporated an image of the teeming urban life of Cahokia into our stock mental images of Native American life in North America? I know I struggle to do this.

To begin to grasp the achievement of the Native Americans who built Cahokia Mounds, first climb the 156 steps of Monks Mound to survey the vast flat floodplain of the nearby Mississippi River. It’s a view that could either suggest awesome political power or a spirituality of the land, but which impulse served as the primary original impetus for building these vast mounds of earth remains stubbornly unknown. Nearly one thousand years ago (the heyday of Cahokia was 1050 to about 1300 A.D.), some bold and powerful catalyst (a leader? an event? an idea?) must have sparked here. But without a written record, or even a clearly passed-down oral tradition, the nature of Cahokia’s origin remains mysterious.

Magnificent murals in the Cahokia Interpretive Center can help visitors imagine how this urban center might have looked centuries ago. The entrance mural by artist L.K. Townsend provides a breathtaking look at the central area, circa 1100 A.D., as seen from a top-of-a-mound perspective. The imposing Monks Mound is in the distance with the Grand Plaza in the foreground. Hundreds of thatched houses form the periphery, with an large stockade fence enclosing the city proper.

Cahokia Interpretive Center's entrance mural by L. K. Townsend.
Image courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

To help with orientation, here’s an overhead map/image of the Cahokia Mounds settlement, prepared by Bill Iseminger and Mark Esarey with artwork by Greg Harlin:

Overhead view of the Cahokia Mounds settlement by Bill Iseminger.
Image courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

And now we move in for a closer look at community life at Cahokia, via the art of Michael Hampshire:

Mural by Michael Hampshire of community life at Cahokia Mounds.
Image courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

And a Cahokia market scene, also by Michael Hampshire:

Mural by Michael Hampshire of a Cahokia market scene.
Image courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

For a large and thriving culture, this was life in the American Midwest, 400 years before Columbus.

Other Recommended Sites:  Just ten miles northwest of Cahokia Mounds, the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site marks the official starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There’s a visitor center with six galleries of exhibitions. In the other direction, ten miles southwest of Cahokia Mounds, the Cahokia Courthouse dates back to 1740 and is the oldest surviving courthouse in Illinois.

Pottery exhibit at the Cahokia Interpretive Center.
Photo courtesy of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Thursday’s destination:  Hegeler Carus Mansion

© 2013 Lee Price

1 comment:

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