Cahokia Mounds

Cahokia Mounds

May 14, 2006, Collinsville, IL near St. Louis, MO

On May 14, 2006, I was in St. Louis, MO, so I went to Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, IL, near St. Louis, MO.

Cahokia was the center of the prehistoric Mississippian Indian civilization from about AD 900 to 1350. It was the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico at its peak, occupying nearly six square miles with a population of about 20,000 people.

26 mounds were found in the St. Louis area but no longer exist. This was one of the many outlying towns around Cahokia.

A lot of the mounds that existed here at Cahokia have been destroyed by farmers who didn't realize what they were. These mounds looked like small hills and were either leveled to make fields or farmed over. And even sometimes when it was evident that the mounds were manmade, the significance of the mounds was not realized.

Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center Interpretive Center

The fabulous Interpretive Center was built over a portion of the site which had been excavated. In front of the entrance is a concrete area where they have painted representations of the things that were found there. This was a residential area and was built over several times, so you can see overlapping outlines of the living structures.

Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center Entrance Interpretive Center Entance

The entrance doors are faced with bronze bas-relief panels designed and sculpted by Preston Jackson of Peoria, IL. The exterior doors depict birds/ravens in flight over Monks Mound, the largest mound at the site. These doors were funded as part of the Interpretive Center contract and were cast by Scott Metals of Indianapolis, IN. Each door weighs approximately 800 pounds.

Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center Entrance Interpretive Center Entance

The interior doors depict people, the stockade, Monks Mound, a falcon and ravens. They were privately funded and were cast by Art Castings of Oregon, IL.

Inside the Interpretive Center are a Site Model, Murals depicting how the site may have looked, a theater with an Orientation Show, a life-size diorama of of Cahokia as it was around the year 1200 and many other exhibits.

Cahokia Mounds Monks Mound Monks Mound

Ths photo is a view of Monks Mound. It got this name because French Trappist Monks lived on a nearby mound from 1809-1813, farmed the terraces of Monks Mound, and built a chapel on the First Terrace, which is the lower portion of the mound that you can see from this view.

Monks Mound is the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the western hemisphere. Its base covers over 14 acres and it rises in four terraces to a height of 100 feet. For comparison, the base of the Great Pyramid in Egypt covers 13.6 acres and was originally about 480 feet high. Coring through the mound has shown that it was built in many stages over a 300 year period.

Cahokia Mounds map Map of the Cahokia site

This is a map of the Cahokia site. In the bottom right corner is the Interpretive Center. I started by taking Tour I, and walked around Twin Mounds and then along the southern end of the Central Plaza.

Cahokia Mounds Fox Mound Fox Mound

First I came to Fox Mound, one of the twin mounds, which was a large platform mound. Ths mound has not been excavated, but this type of mound would have had a building on top. It has been rounded by erosion, but would have been more blockish originally.

Cahokia Mounds Roundtop Mound Roundtop Mound

The building that probably stood on Fox Mound was likely a charnel house, and the burials probably took place in Roundtop Mound. Because excavations have not been done on either mound, this assumption is based on excavations at other Mississippian sites. These two mounds appear to have been built on a shared platform.

Cahokia Mounds Mound 48 Mound 48

This is a view of Mound 48 on the west side of the Central Plaza, north of the Twin Mounds. This is where the Trappist Monks were said to have lived from 1809-1813.

Cahokia Mounds view from the Twin Mounds A view from the Twin Mounds looking across the Central Plaza toward the Monks Mound

Cahokia Mounds Mound 55 Mound 55

Excavations indicate that at one time it had two terraces and may have been as high as 33 feet. Several ceremonial buildings were constructed here prior to the construction of the mound.

Next I drove to the parking area next to Monks Mound (see map above) and began Tour II. Here they had reconstructions of portions of the stockades that were built around the central portion of the city.

Cahokia Mounds Reconstruction of the First Stockade Reconstruction of the First Stockade

This first reconstruction represents the first of four stockades that were built. The wall would have been alsmost 2 miles long, although its exact location on the west and north has not yet been determined. On the left side of the photo you can see a bastion, which would contain a raised platform from which to launch arrows against attackers. These bastions were located along the wall at approximately 70 foot intervals. With each new construction, the spacing between these bastions became more and more precise, indicating that a standard unit of measurement had been developed.

Cahokia Mounds Second Wall Second Wall

Next I came to a reconstruction of the second wall. This was the largest of the four walls that were built here, with large rectangular bastions. A portion of this reconstruction has been plastered with a mixture of clay and grass (daub). This was done at other Mississippian sites and may have been done here also, but no evidence for that has yet been found.

Cahokia Mounds bastion in the second wall A bastion in the second wall

This photo shows the inside of the wall, with an opening into the bastion. These reconstructions are in the exact locations of the originals and telephone poles have been used as they approximate the size of the posts that were used. It would have taken about 20,000 posts to construct each wall.

Cahokia Mounds Monks Mound Monks Mound

This photo was taken from the top of the first set of stairs at Monks Mound which brought us unto the First Terrace. These stairs were built in the same location where excavations suggest that log steps had been placed. In this photo, we are looking toward the stairs that would take us up to the Third Terrace.

Cahokia Mounds Monks Mound Monks Mound

In this photo we are looking from the Third Terrace of Monks Mound down toward the First Terrace. (The Second Terrace is off to the west side of the mound.) In the distance you can see the Twin Mounds on the other side of the Central Plaza. From this view you can get a better feel for how large the Twin Mounds really are.

Cahokia Mounds Monks Mound Monks Mound

This is the view from the Third Terrace looking toward the Fourth Terrace. Excavations on the Fourth Terrace found evidence of a large building or temple which was probably the residence of the leader as well as the scene of many important ceremonies.

Cahokia Mounds Monks Mound view From the top of Monks Mound, you can see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO.

If you look real close, you can see some posts standing up on the right side of the photo, just before the tree line in the distance. This is Woodhenge, which I will visit next. In between Monks Mound and Woodhenge you can see a couple of platform mounds.

Once I left Monks Mound, I drove to the parking area for Woodhenge and began Tour III. As many as five different circles were constructed here, each with different center points, diameters and number of posts. This is a reconstruction of the third circle, which dates to around 1100 A.D. The center post is five and a half feet to the east of the exact center of the circle which makes its alignments with the soltice sunrise posts more accurate for this latitude.

Cahokia Mounds Woodhenge Woodhenge

In this photo, which is looking from the southeast from the outside of the circle, you can see the three important posts. On the left is a post with one white stripe. This is the post that marks the sunrise on the winter solstice (when viewed from the center post inside the circle.) Off to the right is another post with one white stripe. This post marks the sunrise on the summer solstice. In between them is a post with two white stripes. This post marks the sunrise on the spring and fall equinoxes.

Cahokia Mounds Woodhenge Another view of Woodhenge from outside the circle.

Cahokia Mounds Woodhenge Woodhenge

This photo was taken from inside the circle, near the center post. You can see a post on the left with a single white stripe, which marks the position of sunrise on the summer solstice. Also, the second post from the right has two white stripes, is due east of the center post and marks the equinox sunrises on the first day of spring and the first day of fall. The post that marks the position of sunrise on the winter solstice is further to the right (south) of these posts.

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