Where is the Anthropology?: The Mississippians of the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois

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The Cahokia Mounds, located in Collinsville Illinois, were created around 700 AD by people the archaeologists have called Woodland Indians.  Later, another group named by archaeologists as the Mississippian Indians, continued to build the mounds in 800 AD until they mysteriously abandoned the site in 1400 AD.  They have left no written record that has been found so the true tribal names of these groups are unknown to the excavation and scholars.  This is the largest known civilization north of Mexico City.  This particular site of the Mississippians is the largest in the United States with 109 out of the 120 mounds recovered out of several other mound locations scattered along the Mississippi river and a few sites located further west, east of the Appalachian Mountain range.  Out of the 109 Historical Preservation Agency of Illinois preserved 68 mounds covering 2200 acres (890 hectares) of land (Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, 2001, 1-2).  “The remnants of the Mississippian’s central city [is] now known as Cahokia for the Indians who lived nearby in the late 1600s” (Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/Introduction.html).   

These two groups of prehistoric Indian cultures, mainly the Mississippians, developed a complex and long lasting society.  They had an “advanced civilization: widespread commerce; stratified social, political, and religious organization; specialized and refined crafts; and monumental architecture”, and agriculture system for corn/Maze, squash and other native plants (Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/Introduction.html).  The cities structure had a large opening field surrounded by smaller mounds with the largest mound at the Northern end of the open field being the temple mound or “Monks Mound”.  Other mounds further out continue to diminish in size and social importance of the occupancies during the time of the Mississippians.  This town included a large wall around the town center that archaeologists have reconstructed in place to divide the social rankings of the city (Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, 2001, 9-12).  

 Cahokia Mound

There is evidence of a large trading system between other native groups during the time of the Mississippian and Woodland due to the location of the Cahokia site.  The Cahokia site is geographically located at the convergence of three major rivers; Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois and four ecozones; Mississippian Valley, Ozarks, Prairies, Eastern Woodland. The rivers junction creates fertile land from the expansive flood plain called the “American Bottom”.  “It stretched 70 miles along the Mississippi from present day Alton, Illinois, to Chester, Illinois, and was up to 12 miles wide from the river east to its bluffs” (Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/settingstage.html).  Spring rains swelled the American Bottom land’s streams replenishing the lands for cultivation by renewing the nutrients essential for the wide-scale agricultural (Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/settingstage.html). 


The Mississippian people benefited from the American Bottom with the advantage in farming, economics, and society.  They interacted with nomadic Plains dwellers, Northeastern forest people, and other Mississippians in the Southeast providing resources and ideas to the Cahokian city.  From this central conjunction, Mississippians traveled by water and land “along trade routes already established by the Woodland and, to some extent, the Archaic peoples” (Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/Mississippians.html).  In traded goods the Mississippians gained copper from The Great Lakes area, mica form the Appalachian and seashells from the Gulf of Mexico.  (Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/Mississippians.html).
The Cahokia Mounds have been compared to the mounds and cities built by the ancestral people of the Maya, Inca and Aztec civilizations with many cultural and innovative advancements being of similar orientation.

“Despite striking similarities to features of cultures in Mexico and elsewhere, there is no scientific evidence that several Mississippian trademarks – flat-topped temple mounds, calendric systems, and ceramic styles – were the result of anything other than independent invention.  No Mexican artifacts have been found in the American Bottom or in any other part of this country outside the Southwest.

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But above all, the early Mississippians somehow acquired the knowledge of growing corn, or maize, a technology that had originated in Mexico 4000 years earlier and slowly spread to other parts of the Americas.  Coupled with improvements in the flint hoe, it was this adaptable and prolific plant, and the steady food supply it created, on which the powerful civilization at Cahokia was built.”

(Cahokia Mounds Museum website, 2003 http://www.cahokiamounds.com/Mississippians.html

These mounds are part of the mystery of human civilization in North America and are still being studied today.  The Cahokia Mounds Museum Society still conducts summer field studies of mounds and other sites on the premises.  The museum contains many of the artifacts and reconstruction based on materials found.  This site is continuing to provide archaeologists with more information about the ancient American civilizations that existed in the New world. 

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If you want to read and learn more about the Cahokia Mounds visit their website at: http://www.cahokiamounds.com/cahokia.html -Adrienne Elder 

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These are some articles that I have found on the Internet about the Cahokia from the Science Daily website. If you want to read the full articles go to Archaeology Spotlight Articles on the site.  There are the article summaries.

 Archaeologists Identify Oldest Existing Mound Complex In New WorldScienceDaily (Sep. 23, 1997) The earliest existing mound complex built by humans in the new world has been identified in Louisiana by a team of archaeologists and researchers from around the United States including Jim Feathers, a University of Washington research assistant professor of archaeology. Details of the discovery appear in the Sept. 19 issue of the journal Science.

Geological Origins Of Ancient Figures Yield Clues To Cahokian Society ScienceDaily (Mar. 15, 2000)— CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Nearly 1,000 years before St. Louis became known as the Gateway to the West, another expanding culture had created a major ceremonial mound complex that is now called Cahokia. By all accounts, Cahokia was huge, consisting of hundreds of platform mounds, supported by a population numbering in the thousands. At issue, however, has been whether Cahokia was part of a regional trade network that stretched from the Great Plains to the South Atlantic.    

Artifact Analyses Dispute Assumptions About A Prehistoric Society ScienceDaily (Aug. 3, 2001)— CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Fragments of red stone artifacts – bits of smoking pipes, decorative ear lobe spools and a figurine, all plucked out of rich prehistoric soil in the U.S. Midwest – used to tell one story about the complex culture and the ancient people who left them behind. Now they tell another. 

 Discovery Of Ax Heads Furthers Understanding Of Cahokian Society ScienceDaily (Aug. 6, 2001)CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A team of archaeologists, including students, working under a blazing summer sun on a high hill near O’Fallon, Ill., have made a rare find.  

New Technique Helps Solve Mystery Of Ancient Figurines ScienceDaily (Jul. 7, 2003)CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Thanks in part to new spectroscopic technology, researchers have solved a great mystery concerning some of North America’s oldest pieces of sculpture.  

 

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Comments

  • theanthrogeek  On March 10, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    I thought is was Cahokia; I just couldn’t remember the name. I’ve been there and found it rather cool.

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