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Editorial | Fragments | Cahokia I | Piasa Creature I | Sphinx II
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Cahokia: Forgotten Jewel of the Midwest Part II

"Monk's Mound", the primary mound of the Cahokia acropolis, so-called because of the monastery that once occupied its apex after the first European explorers came through what is now central Illinois. This massive mound has the same approximate base area as the Great Pyramid at Giza, though it is not nearly as tall. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Cahokia is noted for its important role in the prehistory of North America. Here is Monk's Mound as viewed from the southeast (top), south (bottom left) and east (bottom right).

ahokia, as it is now called, is the largest known mound complex in North America, and contains the largest earthen mound in the world: "Monk's Mound". This massive mound, named for the monastery that once graced its summit, sat at the center of the largest known city complex in North America, which is believed to have supported over 20,000 people at its peak. Cahokia in turn sat at the center of a massive network of village and lesser mound complexes, stretching from what is now Wisconsin (Aztalan) throughout the midwestern and southeastern United States. In fact, Cahokia rivaled in size and scope even the huge pyramidal complexes of South and Central America, and should rightfully be considered the North American equivalent of the great cities of those continents.

Around 1000 b.c., the "Woodland Culture" began to develop in eastern North America. This culture appeared in the "American Bottom," a low point of land surrounding the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, around 600 b.c. Over the next 1,400 years, this Woodland Culture began to become more and more settled in the Midwest, and began to develop complex religious, social, economic, and political systems. In effect, these Native Americans had "settled" in the American Bottom and, for a time at least, these previously nomadic people had become civilized.

Starting around 500 b.c., various subgroups of Native Americans, including the Adena and the Hopewell, began to build earthen burial mounds and effigy mounds in the shape of animals. From this point, mound building would become a central part of life for the Native Americans of the American Bottom. The Mississippian Culture, which built the Cahokian acropolis, evolved in three stages: the Late Woodland Era (a.d. 600-800), the Emergent Mississippian Era (a.d. 800-1000), and the Mississippian Era (a.d 1000-1400). Cahokia reached its apex between 900 and 1200 a.d., during Europe's dark ages, and lasted until 1400 a.d., when the site was abandoned for unknown reasons.

Cahokia Timeline, 700 b.c. to 1800 a.d.


Cultural Traditions

Cahokia Phases

Activities in Cahokia Area

Elsewhere in the World




Trappist Monks
French chapel on Monk's Mound
Cahokia Illini arrive

French Revolution
American Revolution
Horse introduced to Plains






Oneota villages nearby

Spanish Armada sails
Columbus arrives
Aztec civilization




Sand Prairie

Site abandoned
Climate change
Decline begins
Peak occupation
Stockades built
Woodhenges built

Aztec civilization
Marco Polo in Asia
Toltec Civilization
Vikings in America
Mesa Verde thriving





Emergent Mississippian


Mound 72 Burials
First Mounds built
Occupation expands

Charlemagne reigns
Collapse of Mayans



Late Woodland


First settlements at site
Villages nearby and on bluffs

Effigy mounds in Iowa
Mayan peak
Mohammed born
Black Plague
Fall of Rome
Dark Ages begins






Middle Woodland


Villages nearby in bottoms

Hopewell Mounds in Ohio
Chinese invent paper
Serpent Mound, Ohio



- 0 -

Birth of Christ


Early Woodland


Scattered hamlets in area

London founded
Hannibal over Alps
China unified
Punic Wars
Olmec civilization
Sparta flourished
Buddha born
Persian Empire








Late Archaic


Hunting camps

Rome founded

Table from Cahokia: City of the Sun (Collinsville, IL: Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, 1992), 14.

The Cahokia site contains over 100 mounds of various sizes, dating throughout the mound-building period, some of which contain extensive burial artifacts. It also contains a "woodhenge", a circle of upright logs used by the Cahokian priesthood as a sort of celestial calendar, just as the triptychs of stonehenge were used by the Celts of ancient Britain to determine the start of their year, predict eclipses, and regulate their daily lives. It is also known that the Cahokians built a defensive wall around the mound complex, part of which has been reconstructed. It is similar in style to that built by the inhabitants of Aztalan , as covered in the Winter 1998 issue of Mysterious World, built in the same fashion, and even using "stockades" at regular intervals along the walls. These close similarities, combined with the known links between Aztalan and Cahokia, give more credence to the idea put forth in our Aztalan article that the ancient Aztecs had migrated to Mexico from the north, possibly from as far north as Aztalan. Cahokia is also a contender for an origin point for the Aztecs, but in either case, the extensive mound-building culture in North America and the similarity in building styles between North and Central American pyramidal structures makes it clear that there was some sort of cultural contact at some point.

Monk's Mound Restored Stockade Wall Section Murdock Mound Southwest Palisade Southeast Palisade Platform Southeast Palisade Mound Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center

Monk's Mound | Restored Stockade Wall Section | Murdock Mound | Southwest Palisade
Southeast Palisade Platform | Southeast Palisade Mound | Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center

Who knows the contacts the ancient Cahokians had with their southern neighbors, the Aztecs, or even their local neighbors in what is now known as North America? The Cahokians left no written records, and they have long since abandoned the site, either blending in with the surrounding peoples, or perhaps migrating south to help form the Aztec Empire, as some have suggested. In either case, this massive complex, sitting at the center of an ancient mound culture that spread throughout the midwestern and southeastern United States, is truly the forgotten jewel of the Midwest.

Visit us again this summer, where we will further investigate the Cahokian people, their religious, social, economic and political institutions, and the material culture that they left behind.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is just eight miles from downtown St. Louis near Collinsville, Illinois, off Interstates 55-70 and 255, and Illinois 111, on Collinsville road. It is open daily free of charge, although a donation of $2 for adults and $1 for children is suggested. Call (618) 346-5160 for more information or a 1999 Calendar of Events.

Official Cahokia Mounds Site
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency: Cahokia Mounds
Cahokia page hosted by School District 54 in Schaumburg, Illinois
A Select Bibliography of Published Cahokia Archaeology

Cahokia: Forgotten Jewel of the Midwest Part II

Editorial | Fragments | Cahokia I | Piasa Creature I | Sphinx II
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Contact us!
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Cahokia: City of the Sun:
Prehistoric Urban Center In The American Bottom

Claudia G. Mink
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site preserves the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric Indian civilization north of Mexico, circa A.D. 900-1300. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Cahokia is noted for its important role in the prehistory of North America. This book, written for a general audience, introduces the reader to this ancient metropolis, with its towering 100 foot-high Monks Mound and American Woodhenge sun calendar. This is the astounding story of an advanced Indian culture in North America that thrived and then declined before European contact. Compact and readable, this book is personally recommended by the publisher as the perfect starter book for those interested in further study of Cahokia.
Click here to buy this book.

The Cahokia Atlas:
A Historical Atlas of Cahokia Archaeology

(Studies in Archaeology)
Melvin L. Fowler
This book is an excellent and very well written introduction to Cahokian history, archaeology, topography, and everything the casual and advanced reader might want in a book about Cahokia. Very readable and well illustrated, this book is personally recommended by the publisher.
Click here to buy this book.

Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power
Thomas E. Emerson
"Much of the work in the rich flood plain known as the American Bottom has focused on the huge Mississippian center of Cahokia and other large mound sites. Emerson opts to evaluate the radiation of chiefly power into the rural communities, and how these were transformed as the power of elites at Cahokia waxed and waned. His work is further distinguished by its focus on ceremony and ritual as cornerstones of elite power....Another major strength of the volume is its approach to settlement analysis....North American archaeologists are caught up in a period of exciting (and mostly civil) debates about the political economy of Mississippian societies. Cahokia and the American Bottom in particular have become an important testing ground for evaluating competing ideas about the nature of chiefly power. Emerson's work reflects the growing sophistication of the approaches being brought to bear on this issue and is to be commended for its thoughtful articulation of method and theory."
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Cahokia: Domination And Ideology In the Mississippian World
Timothy R. Pauketat (Editor), Thomas E. Emerson (Editor)
About one thousand years ago, Native Americans built hundreds of earthen platform mounds, plazas, residential areas, and other types of monuments in the vicinity of present-day St. Louis. This sprawling complex, known to archaeologists as Cahokia, was the dominant cultural, ceremonial, and trade center north of Mexico for centuries. This stimulating collections of essays casts new light on the remarkable accomplishment of Cahokia. The nine contributors explore a wide range of topics - religion, trade, the nature of local and regional ideologies, social organization, subsistence, mound construction, and the longstanding question of Cahokia's relationship to later Mississippian chiefdoms across the Southeast. Cahokia emerges from this book as a significant focal point of eastern native history. It was prominently situated at the center of a vast regional network that was simultaneously ideological, religious, and economic - an intricate system of thought, ritual and power whose effects were felt for centuries.
Click here to buy this book.

Cahokia and the Hinterlands:
Middle Mississippian Cultures of the Midwest

Thomas E. Emerson (Editor), R. Barry Lewis (Editor)
This fascinating look at one of the most important archaeological sites in North America brings together the latest research by active Mississippian scholars within the Upper and Central Mississippian Valley. It details the rise of a complex prehistoric society that influenced cultures throughout the Midwest. This volume is illustrated with maps, drawings of artifacts, charts, tables, and photographs. Its contributors cover topics as wide-ranging as cultural history, the development of social ranking, regional cultural variation, cultural taxonomy, economic modeling, craft specialization, settlement patterns, models of frontier development, and agricultural and subsistence systems. Their work will contribute much to the understanding of the rise of chiefdoms and stratified societies and the development of trade throughout the world.
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The Ancient Splendor Of Prehistoric Cahokia
Sidney G. Denny, Ernest L. Schusky, John Adkins Richardson (Illustrator), John D. Richardson
Most books on Native American culture concentrate on the periods just before, during, and after contact with European civilization. This one, however, offers a glimpse of American life in a much earlier period. The authors believe that the Cahokia Mounds site in southern Illinois "represents the most complex social and political culture of prehistoric North American Indians." The book describes the archaeological finds and the layout of Cahokia, relates it to other sites in the U. S. and Mexico, and discusses the deductions made about the people who lived at Cahokia and the mysteries that remain. The black-and-white illustrations, mainly drawings with a few fuzzy photographs, vary in style and in quality of reproduction. Although the pictures add interest to the text, the practice of captioning them only in the appended list of illustrations limits their usefulness, especially for children. Despite these drawbacks, the book provides a basic introduction to Cahokia Mounds. That alone will make it a useful addition to libraries, particularly in the Midwest.
Click here to buy this book.

Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of North and Central America
David Hatcher Childress
One of the popular "Lost Cities" series, this book is a must-have guidebook for mysterious places in North and Central America. I enjoy Childress' books mainly because he comes across as very honest, although he engages in too much speculation to be taken at face value. Overall I find his books a very engaging read, and the speculative aspect, though often unscientific, is very entertaining. Moreover, the amazing amount of study and travel he has done brings a certain amount of credibility to his work. I highly recommend the "Lost Cities" series of books both for their refreshingly informal approach and for their "infotainment" value. These books are definitely not for the timid, and certainly not for the closed-minded.
Click here to buy this book.

America's Ancient Treasures: A Guide to Archaeological Sites
and Museums in the United States and Canada

Franklin Folsom
America's ancient treasures (1993 edition) is a reprint of a classic first printed back in 1971. It contains a thorough recounting of every major and most minor Native American archaeological sites and museums in North America, and is an excellent resource tool for those interested in a serious exploration into North America's ancient past. (Review by Mysterious World)
Click here to buy this book.

Serpent Mound
Rusty Crutcher
Crutcher's "Serpent Mound" is an excellent blend of piano and keyboards, Lakota flute, ocarina, and exotic percussion, plus subtly blended environmental recordings. I highly recommend this CD as one of the best of its genre I have heard. (The background music on this page is from "Osa", the first track of this CD.) Click here to buy this CD.

Mound Builders
From the popular "In Search of History" series, "Mound Builders" gives us a good overall understanding of the mound building cultures that dominated North America over a thousand years ago. All aspects of North American mound building are covered.
Click here to buy this video.

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