Mary Beth Writes

Last week we went to Cahokia with our pals, Otis and David. Our Corps of Discovery (not to be confused with Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the same name) started because, at my daughter’s request, Otis had sewn a quilt for her. Len and I decided it would be fun to drive to the central Illinois village where he lives to pick it up, thus saving them the fortune it would cost to ship it.

And if one is going to be tootling down along the Mississippi River, why not hop on down to Cahokia, across from St. Louis?

I mean, how much further can it be? 

The answer is: FOUR HOURS EACH WAY FROM WARSAW!

Last Friday we picked up Otis and Dave at 8AM, drove to Cahokia, hung out several hours in blistering 90-degree temps with 70% humidity and then drove back to Warsaw. Nine hours altogether in the car definitely causes cement butt.

Cahokia is one of the US’s 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is a huge and haunting place.  As you drive towards to it you see a wide, flat, park-like area. There are bumps in the acres of flatness, each covered with a tangle of grass and vegetation. One of the bumps is WAY bigger than the others; that’s Monk’s Mound.

Here are some things I have learned about this quietly spectacular place.

Cahokia was built and populated by people of the Mississippian culture, the mound-building Native American civilization that flourished in the big central areas of what is now the US from about 800 to 1600 CE. Cahokia was, by far, the biggest of these cities.

By 1100 CE Cahokia covered 6 square miles, contained 120 earthen mounds, and the population was somewhere between 6000 and 40,000 people with even more folks living in outlying farming villages.

Modern archeologists estimate that until Philadelphia in 1780, Cahokia was the largest city north of Mexico. The population of 13th-century Cahokia was quite likely larger than the population of 13th-century London.

So why was it here? A couple reasons. Chert is rock that can be struck into sharp-edged pieces that can then be made into hoes and other tools and weapons; there was a good supply of chert not too far away in what is now southern Illinois.  Cahokia controlled the manufacture and distribution of chert hoes and tools; this economic activity allowed the city to thrive. (Like FB and Google, they who start the business control the business and make the fortunes).  Cahokian tools have been found near Red Wing, Minnesota, in Pennsylvania, along the Gulf Coast and around Lake Superior. Bartering, not money, was used in trade.

The northern hemisphere’s climate from 1100-1300 CE was extra warm and wet – we know this from European records as well as from evidence in North America.  Cahokia thrived in those centuries on the three-fold crops of corn, beans, and squash, as well as bountiful fish and animals.

No one is completely sure why this powerful culture disappeared in the 1400’s, but its decline coincides with the Little Ice Age; a worldwide climate crisis that started when ash from a huge volcano in the Pacific islands blocked out much of the sun’s warmth for two years – and crops didn’t grow. There was hunger and hard times worldwide which affected people’s stamina. In Asia and Europe plagues decimated the population; it is possible that happened at Cahokia also.

Whatever happened, the people disappeared.  Eventually other Indian people moved in; it has been populated since French explorers first came upon Cahokia in the 1600’s.  But the population was small and the people they encountered told them they didn’t know the original inhabitants.

So let’s talk about those mounds … Monk’s Mound looks significant from a distance. You decide to climb the modern cement stairs built into the east side. Now you understand that 10 stories up is a LOT of steps, especially when you are huffing and puffing in steam bath weather. At the top you can see to the St. Louis arch and beyond. Scientists know a large structure was built at this apex; this was the center of Cahokia. Building Monk’s Mound took 20 years and required thousands of workers who moved more than 55 million cubic feet of earth – all accomplished via woven baskets.  It covers 14 acres; the footprint is larger than the pyramid at Giza.

The rest of those mounds - 80 remain to this day – tell a mysterious and violent story. One mound contains the bones of 270 women and men. Four of the mounds seem to contain far more women than men, though that is still being researched and debated. Some skeletons have been unearthed in a vertical position, their fingers clawing upwards, evidence they were buried alive. No one knows why. Why would a successful civilization kill and bury so many of its healthy adults? What was going on?

During excavation of Mound 72, archaeologists found the remains of a man buried on a bed of more than 20,000 marine-shell disc beads arranged in the shape of a falcon, with the bird's head appearing beneath and beside the man's head, and its wings and tail beneath his arms and legs. All those shells were brought from far away.

Excavations reveal a copper workshop; the only known copper workshop to be found at a Mississippian culture site. Someone was pushing the frontiers of technology.

The Cahokian “Woodhenge” was a series of large timber circles located to the west of Monks Mound. When the holes were plotted out, they formed arcs of equally spaced holes. It is believed the that the placement of these arcs became part of whole circles, like Stonehenge in England – marking out solstice days and other astronomical dates. What did they do to mark the arrival and departure of the seasons here at the swampy confluence of the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Illinois rivers?

Cahokia, North America’s first river city, was wealthy, dangerous for some, complicated and urban. And then it disappeared.

Perhaps the most modern and relevant question of all is this.  Cahokia was massive, powerful, and sophisticated.  Why have so few of us heard of it – and even fewer visited it to observe, learn, and marvel?

Racism doesn’t always come up and punch us in the nose. There is so much chauvinism and racism that is silent, that is a curtain of myths and lies which separate us from the powerfully wonderful and horrible stories from which we and our nation arose.

If you want to learn more, start at Wikipedia and wander around on the internet where there is MUCH information. Including tales about “black drink”, a caffeine drink made from holly leaves.  For those who live in Wisconsin - Aztalan is an offshoot from Cahokia.  It’s 30 miles east of Madison, a couple miles south of I-94.

 

 

 

 

Tags

Comments

Good read! I didn’t know any of this. So interesting.

Fascinating!

Thank you for writing about this place! I had never heard of Cahokia! Now I know it will be added to my list of places to visit one day!

Was there nearly 30 years ago - also Aztalan in Wisconsin and Effigy in Iowa, and some other places, but Cahokia was certainly the largest. All of the sites are rather mysterious and I definitely felt the sacredness of the sites when I was there. Now I live near Chaco Canyon -- no mounds, but ruins of another ancient culture which mysteriously disappeared.
Mary Beth's picture

When we were by Casa Grande in Arizona a couple years ago - same story. Successful community - and then in the 1400's the people disappeared.

Add new comment

CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

New Mexico & Power in the Dollhouse

Yesterday Dr. Angel Fairy "healed" dollhouse beings with cupcakes sprinkles.

...

This afternoon is sunny and 70 degrees. I guess this is why we are leaving here to go somewhere else? Oh, the irony of leaving the Midwest in May.

We are leaving in the next few days for a road trip to New Mexico. The theme of this vacation will be (da-dum, da-dum) “Destination Today.” Which says we learned some things two years ago when we drove and drove and drove to eastern Canada. And then drove and drove and drove coming back. Too much driving, not enough stopping.

Relief, Lauren Hough, April Snowstorm

Are we feeling the relief? Relief that we can see George Floyd’s face, his profile, that awful image of him under Chauvin’s knee – and feel some accountable closure to such a brazen murder?

I guess at least now, if one is a person of color and an officer kills you, I suppose they can kill you for a minute and still expect to get away with it but nine minutes is too long. Yes, that’s a cynical thing to say. We knew cops were entitled, but it's only in the past few years – because of cellphones – we have seen this entitled violence play out before our eyes.

Dancing Lessons & What’s Next on Your List?

“Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Kurt Vonnegut

Yesterday I got a text at 5AM from one of our kids. “Mom, are you awake?”

Heart stops.

Heart starts again.

Nancy Drew (her cat) was sick. Nancy had been stumbling, rolling to her side, couldn’t walk, tried to jump up to our daughter’s bed and fell. Daughter took Nancy to a 24/7 emergency vet clinic.

Obviously, she had already done the only thing there was to do. Get to a vet.

A Wonderful Photo, Brownies, Voting Rights, Kids & their Books

These are things I thought about this week:

1. I am a person who has to use self-discipline to not bake cookies and desserts ALL THE TIME. I can go from “Hmm, brownies would be tasty” to made-from-scratch brownies in my mouth a half hour later.

Every strength - is also a weakness - is also a strength.

Here’s my brownie recipe from a Lutheran cookbook I impulse bought at McDonald’s Bakery in my hometown in the middle 1980’s when we were visiting my mom. I made these so often the cookbook fell apart at this recipe, so I threw the rest of the book away and just kept this.

Your Favorite Poster’s Post-Easter Post

I don’t often share my physical challenges with you, but today, Friends, I have suffered. I own three barrettes and I cannot find any of them and my hair has been slip-sliding into my eyes all day.

Why is it the littlest stuff that trips us up?

I could buy more barrettes and perhaps someday I will. Though I have learned this tricky lesson in my life - the more one owns of a small item, the more likely it is one will not keep track of that thing and it will become utterly lost.

Anyway…

MB's "Twilight Bark"

Today I am writing what I could most accurately describe as a Twilight Bark. As in, one dog barking a heartfelt warning to many other dogs. (Do NOT miss this Twilight Bark clip from YouTube.) 

On Friday Len went for his annual checkup. While there, he received a pneumonia vaccine, because after all the hoopla about the covid vaccines, the pneumonia shot is no big deal, right?

Len started feeling lousy that very afternoon and he still felt awful on Saturday. So we didn’t go to Chicago to visit our kids and grands. 

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words AARPtaxes AAUW Acadia Accountable Advent antlers apples Arrows Ashland Augustine baby balance Baldwin Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM BookReport boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cahokia calendars Canada cats cello Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport CrimeShows death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering depression Destination Today Detroit disasterprep dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Eclipse EmilyDickinson exit polls FairTrade farmer firealarm Fitness Five Flexible flu Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd ghosts gorgons GovernorThompsonStatePark groceries Guatemala guns happiness HaveYouEver? Healthinsurance HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HouseinBlueRiver hurricane impeachment Innkeeper integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich justice Karen Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Mayan MayaWorks MindfulChickens Mistakes moon Mother MothersDay mouser movies museums must-haves Nancy Drew New York City Nomadland OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon poetry Preaching privacy Protest Quern quest Rabbit holes racism recipe recipes Remember Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rime RitesofPassage Roses Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes SaraRodriguez sculpture Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito SpaceShuttle spring square feet staining stele Stereotypes StoryStarts stress Survival swim taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge ThePerpetualYou ThreeBillBoards TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone UnrelatedObservations urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam VivianWokeUpDrowning vole WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving wedding WhyAttendChurch WillaCather
Ad Promotion