Cahokia is situated close to St. Louis, outside Collinsville, IL, and is considered to be one of the greatest civilizations North America has ever produced. It's a National Historic landmark and one of only 21 World Heritage sites located in the United States. It is home to the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the US and Canada. The largest mound in the park is about ten stories tall. It's believed that there were originally 120 mounds in existence in this city, and currently about 80 remain. They are shaped differently, some conical, some flat, some with ridges, and are thought to have served different purposes.
Cahokia came into being around 600 AD and the mounds began to show up around 300 years later. The civilization left no written records, which is unfortunate because it was clearly a very advanced and sophisticated society. The Mississippians' trade routes extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. Its population is estimated to have been between 8,000 and 40,000 in the 13th century, which puts it on par with London or Paris at the same time. But by 1300 or so, the city had already disappeared, well before the Europeans arrived on the continent, and no one is entirely sure why. Was it environmental reasons? The inability to support such a large community? Climate change? And where did the people go? The Mississippi and Ohio basins very quickly became completely depopulated of people, and they didn't come back for a very, very long time.
Unfortunately, Cahokia has never gotten the attention it deserves from the US. It was rediscovered by Henry Brackenridge in 1811, but Andrew Jackson's extreme anti-Indian policies had no room in them for the possibility of an advanced and sophisticated Indian culture that was city-based, not nomadic. And many white Americans were far more interested in exploring Greece and Rome for their cultural roots rather than looking to the fabulous civilizations that called America home.
Ironically, it was the interstate highway system that gave Cahokia the funding it needed for extensive excavation. Two highways pass either through or near the site, as mentioned above, but these two were built with the provision for archeological research, and so people began to pay attention to Cahokia. They found mass sacrificial burials, extensive evidence of homes, and a landscape altered by human hands. What they didn't find were many answers, and to this day, there are still many questions surrounding Cahokia and what happened there. But at least now it's getting the attention it deserves in the archeological community.
Here's a link to a beautiful photo collection of Cahokia from National Geographic.
I loved 1491 as well, and I remember after reading it I too wanted to find out more about Cahokia!ReplyDelete
Another excellent post, and a good reminder that I really need to read 1491. I confess I hadn't even heard of Cahokia before.ReplyDelete
This whole post was completely fascinating. I haven't heard of Cahokia before, but I can imagine that the settlers and politicians didn't want to know anything about the possibility of an old civilization once existing in the US.ReplyDelete
*shakes fist* Damn you, Andrew Jackson!ReplyDelete
I've lived in Illinois almost my whole life (I'm in Chicago now), so I've HEARD about the Cahokia Mounds, but since they're in southern IL, I've never...actually...seen them. Now I'm feelin' like I suck as an Illinoisan (is that what we call ourselves?) if I don't go.
I've never heard of Cahokia, but now I'm very intrigued. I love learning about cultures in different times...and enjoy the legacies that they bring to us.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing.
Here's MY SUNDAY SALON POST and
Aarti, I have never before heard of Cahokia, but what you've shared here today is fascinating. I am so curious about what happened to all the people, and without written record, there is just no way of really knowing. Very interesting subject to speculate on though! Very cool post today, my friend!ReplyDelete
Having grown up in St. Louis, Cahokia Mounds are definitely familiar to me as a filed trip destination. This is a great spotlight Aarti!ReplyDelete
This sounds like a fascinating place to visit and it seems a shame that it isn't more well known.ReplyDelete
I'd love to learn more about this early period and truthfully I know about SA, but now much what happened up northReplyDelete
It looks like an incredible site, and it really deserves to be more widely known.ReplyDelete
What a great post! Cahokia has fascinated me since I first heard about it five years or so ago. Someday I will visit. Someday. :)ReplyDelete
I had no idea that this civilization existed! Thanks for sharing this with us.ReplyDelete
That is awesome! I'd never heard of them. I'm off to check out National Geographic. Thanks for the post!ReplyDelete
The racism 19th century Americans exhibited in regards to Cahokia and its neighbors is so... ugh. No, it must have been Europeans from hundreds of years ago who built them! Never mind that there's absolutely no evidence of that - even though there are extensive written records from Europeans of the time. It's just that very little of it was translated into English or German.ReplyDelete
What's worse, of course, is that the denial of these great Native American civilizations directly contributed to the ease in which Americans removed them from their land. I mean, if Europeans built these great mounds, obviously it was European land to begin with?
The same thing happened with Great Zimbabwe - no way locals could have built such a magnificent and complicated site. Must have been Arabs. Or Greeks. Or other Europeans. Anybody but those simple black Africans.
I know that I shouldn't judge people based on the cultural assumptions of their time, but this just seems so... willful. So much WORK to deny POC any sort of agency or intelligence or anything.
Jessica, you're so right. It is ridiculous what contorted and bizarre stories people will think up to make peace in their own minds and allow them to commit all sorts of atrocities. It IS willful and wrong. I hope that now and in future, we'll be much more willing to give POC their due.ReplyDelete
I don't think I was aware of this and I lived in Illinois (Peoria) for many years. I think I will get Mann's book for my bro-in-law for Christmas (and read it first?!) Thanks.ReplyDelete
I lived in Collinsville IL for about 5 years. I visited the mounds several times. Atop Monks Mound is great for a picnic on a nice sunny day. It is near a fairly desolate part of town, amidst 2 sleezy pawn shops. Locals seemed to visit it often. I recall athletes would run up and down its stairs.ReplyDelete
One thing that you notice is that you can stand atop and see St. Louis and its Arch--an old meets new. The two locations are very close. It's quite sad.