Around AD 1100 or 1200, the largest city north of Mexico was Cahokia, located in what is now southern Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Louis. Built around 1050 AD C. and occupied until 1400 AD. C., Cahokia had a peak population of between 25,000 and 50,000 people. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cahokia consisted of three boroughs (Cahokia, East St. Louis and St. Louis) connected by canals and trails that stretched along the Mississippi River floodplain for about 20 square miles. The population consisted of farmers who grew large amounts of corn and craftsmen who made beautiful pots, shell ornaments, arrowheads and clay figurines of fire.
The city of Cahokia is one of many large hill complexes that dot the landscapes of the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys and throughout the Southeast. Despite overwhelming archaeological evidence that these mound complexes were the work of highly developed Native American civilizations, this rich history has been obscured by the myth of the Mound Builders, a tale supposedly created to explain the mounds' existence. Examining the history of Cahokia and the historical myths created to explain it reveals the troubling role that early archaeologists played in reducing or even eliminating the achievements of pre-Columbian civilizations on the North American continent, as well as the United States government. . . expand westward by taking control of Native American lands.
Today it is difficult to understand the size and complexity of Cahokia, which consists of around 190 platforms, ridges and circular mounds aligned with a projected urban grid oriented five degrees east-north. According to Tim Pauketat, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, this alignment is linked to the summer solstice sunrise and maximum moonrise in the south, aligning Cahokia with the movement of the sun and moon. Tenements, sidewalks, squares and hills were deliberately aligned with this urban fabric. Imagine leaving downtown Cahokia. On your journey, you'll encounter neighborhoods with semi-subterranean rectangular homes, central hearths, storage pits, and smaller community spaces interspersed with ritual and public buildings. We know that Cahokia's population was diverse, with people who moved to this city from the center of the continent likely speaking different dialects and bringing with them some of their old ways of life.
The largest mound in Cahokia was Monk's Mound, a four-story platform about 100 feet high that served as the center of the city. At its top stood one of the largest rectangular buildings ever built in Cahokia; it probably served as a ritual space.
Opposite Monk's Mound was a large open space containing a patio where the popular game Chunkey could be played. This game, watched by thousands of spectators, was played by two large groups running around the square throwing darts at a rolling stone disc. The object of the game was to hit the dart where the puck stops rolling. In addition to the fragmented courtyard, additional vertical landmarks and platform bulwarks were erected at the edges of the square. Barrows were built on the ridge along Cahokia's central organizational grid, marked by the Cascavel Causeway, and along the city limits.
Cahokia was built quickly, thousands of people gathered to participate in its construction. As far as archaeologists know, no forced labor was used in the construction of these mounds; Instead, the people gathered in huge parties and gatherings to celebrate the building of the mounds.
The splendor of the hills was visible to the first whites to describe them. But they felt that the American Indians known as the first white settlers could not have built any of the great earthworks that dotted the central continent. So the question was: Who built the mounds?
Early archaeologists working to answer the question of who built the mounds attributed them to the Toltecs, Vikings, Welsh, Hindus and many others. It seemed that any group other than Native Americans could serve as the likely architects of the great earthworks. The implications of this narrative have led to some of the most rigorous archeology in early America, as the quest to determine where these mounds came from became a salacious topic of conversation for America's middle and upper classes. Ohio earthworks such as the Newark Earthworks, a National Historic Landmark just outside Newark, OH, were designed as military-style fortifications by John Fitch (builder of America's first steamboat in 1785). This contributed to the notion that before Native Americans, highly skilled warriors of unknown origin populated the North American continent.
This was particularly pronounced in the Midwest and Southeast, where Archaic-era, Hopewell, and Mississippi mounds straddled the central continent. These landscapes and the mounds built upon them quickly became imaginative sites, fueling speculation as to their origin in the grassy prairies and vast floodplains, as well as the mounds themselves. According to Gordon Sayre (The Mound Builders and the Ancient American Imagination in Jefferson, Bartram, and Chateaubriand), the history of the origin of the mounds was often based on a “fascination for antiquity and architecture”, as “ruins of a distant past” or as “natural” manifestations of the landscape.
When William Bartram and other local Native American tales about the hills were recorded, they apparently confirmed these mythical origins of the hills. According to Bartram's early diaries (Trip, originally published in 1791), the Creek and Cherokee, who lived around the hills, attributed its construction "to the ancients, many ages before they came and possessed this land". Bartram's account of Creek and Cherokee history led to the conclusion that these Native Americans were colonizers, as were Euro-Americans. This served as another way of justifying the expulsion of Native Americans from their ancestral lands: if Native Americans were also the first settlers, then logically white Americans had equal rights to the land, as did Native Americans.
The rise of the hill myth parallels early American expansionist practices, such as the state-sanctioned expulsion of Native Americans from their ancestral lands to make way for the movement of "new" Americans toward the western "frontier." Part of this forced removal involved the erasure of Native Americans' ties to their cultural landscapes.
In the 19th century, evolutionary theory began to adopt interpretations of the past as archaeological research moved away from the armchair and into the realm of scientific inquiry. Within this frame of reference, antiquarians and early archaeologists describedBruce Trigger, tried to show that the New World, like the Old World, "can boast of indigenous cultural achievements to rival those of Europe". Discoveries of ancient stone cities in Central America and Mexico served as a catalyst for this quest, recognizing New World societies as culturally and technologically comparable to those of Europe.
But this perspective collided with Lewis Henry Morgan's 1881 textNative American Homes and Home Life. Morgan, an anthropologist and social theorist, argued that Mesoamerican societies (such as the Maya and Aztecs) exemplified the evolutionary category of "middle barbarism", the highest level of cultural and technological evolution that any indigenous group in the Americas can attain. In contrast, Morgan said that Native Americans in the expanding areas of the new United States were the quintessence of "Stone Age" cultures: static, unadvanced communities, incapable of technological or cultural advancement. These ideologies framed archaeological research at the time.
In contrast to this evolutionary model was the concern with the "vanishing Indian", an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mythology that portrayed Native Americans as a dying race unable to adapt to the new American civilization. The sentimentalized ideal of missing Native Americans seen as noble but doomed to defeat by a superior white civilization held that these "missing" peoples, their customs, beliefs, and practices should be documented for posterity. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to excavate a Native American tomb, citing the downfall of the "noble" Native Americans caused by the violence and corruption of encroaching white civilization as a necessity for these excavations. Scholars inspired by the Enlightenment and some of America's Founding Fathers considered Native Americans theFirstAmericans will be used by the new republic as role models in creating its own national heritage and identity.
Over the past 100 years, extensive archaeological research has changed our understanding of mounds. They are no longer seen as isolated monuments created by a mysterious race. Instead, North American mounds have been shown to have been built by Native American peoples for a variety of purposes. Today, some tribes, such as the Choctaw Band of Mississippi, see these hills as central locations that connect their communities to their ancestral lands. Like other ancient cities around the world, Native Americans revere their connection to history through the sites they built.
Editor's Note: The original story stated that William BartramTripwas published in 1928, but these first periodicals were actually published in 1791.
From c. 500 B.C. to c. 1650 A.D., the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient Native American cultures built mounds and enclosures in the Ohio River Valley for burial, religious, and, occasionally, defensive purposes. They often built their mounds on high cliffs or bluffs for dramatic effect, or in fertile river valleys.What is inside an Indian mound? ›
The Indigenous burial ground that is currently called “Indian Mounds Regional Park” has been a sacred burial ground for over a thousand years. It is significant to living Indigenous Peoples as a cemetery where their ancestors are buried. It is a place of reverence, remembrance, respect, and prayer.What is the significance of Cahokia Mounds? ›
Today, the Cahokia Mounds are considered to be the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico. Cahokia Mounds is a National Historic Landmark and a designated site for state protection. It is also one of the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.What was the purpose of Indian mounds? ›
Some societies buried their dead in mounds with great ceremony. Other cultures built temples atop the mounds, and worshipers approached by climbing steep stairs or ramps. Still other earthworks were symbolic pinnacles of power for leaders who dwelled atop them.What state has the most Indian mounds? ›
Prior to European colonization, there may have been more than 15,000 mounds in the state; perhaps 4,000 of these remain today. Wisconsin is the center of effigy mound culture. Courtesy National Park Service. The earliest mounds, dating to approximately 2,500 years ago, were round or “conical” in shape.What was found beneath the Great Serpent Mound? ›
That is, Serpent Mound contains no artifacts that can be used for identification, but the nearby conical mounds do. Putman originally excavated a conical mound located 200 meters (656 feet) southeast of Serpent Mound, unearthing multiple burials and associated artifacts, including pottery and projectile points.