Cahokia Mounds | St. Louis Public Radio

Cahokia Mounds

Photo courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

In the popular imagination, Cahokia seems to represent a cautionary tale. What today remains only as a series of mounds outside Collinsville, Illinois, used to be a thriving city — bigger than London in the mid-13th century. There may have been as many as 40,000 people living there. Yet in the years that followed, the population faced rapid decline. By 1400, what was a city had become a wasteland. 

A new paper suggests that narrative is at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate. Published Monday in American Antiquity, the study uses fecal deposits to show that the exodus from the site was short-lived. A fresh wave of native people settled in Cahokia and repopulated the area from 1500 to 1700. It was only after European settlers made their way to the area that Cahokia’s ultimate abandonment began.  

Members of the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe demonstrate stomp dance at Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville on Sept. 21. The tribe traces its ancestry to the ancient Mississippians who built the mounds 1,000 years ago.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

COLLINSVILLE – As Angelia Griffin delved into her family’s Native American ancestry in recent years, she developed a deeper respect for the cultural importance of Cahokia Mounds.

“I used to come here as a child when I was in school, on a field trip,’’ said the Belleville resident, who visited the state historic site on a recent Saturday. “I’m looking at it in a different light.’’

This daguerreotype by Thomas M. Easterly shows the last of one of the final big mounds in St. Louis as it was being destroyed in 1869.
Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis

A multitude of truncated earthworks — more commonly known as mounds — once dotted the St. Louis landscape. For the ancient Mississippian people who constructed them many centuries ago, these structures were full of meaning and purpose.

The mounds also drew the interest of European newcomers to the region long after the mounds were built. But by the late 19th century, most of these sacred Native American places had been destroyed — the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Illinois, being a significant exception. 

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Patricia Cleary, a St. Louis native who is currently working on a book about the mounds that she plans to publish leading up to Missouri’s bicentennial celebration of statehood in 2021. Cleary’s visit came in advance of her James Neal Primm Lecture at the Missouri History Museum, set for Monday evening.

Two of more than 70 ancient mounds protected at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site

A bill to make Cahokia Mounds part of a new national park was introduced in Congress on Thursday by Republican Rep. Mike Bost.

The Cahokia Mounds and Mississippian Culture National Historic Park would include Cahokia Mounds, plus ancient mounds in St. Clair, Monroe and Madison counties in Illinois — and Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis, the last remaining mound in the city.

The National Park Service and state and local agencies would manage the park.

Two of more than 70 ancient mounds protected at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site

Federal legislation to make Cahokia Mounds part of a new national park could soon be introduced in Congress, according to proponents of the plan.

Heartlands Conservancy, which has led the effort, has been working on the wording of the bill with the staff of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said Ed Weilbacher, vice president of the nonprofit based in Belleville.

The Cahokia Mounds and Mississippian Culture National Historic Park would also include ancient mounds in St. Clair and Madison counties and Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis, the last remaining mound in the city.

Wash U's Gayle Fritz is the author of "Feeding Cahokia: Early Agriculture in the North American Heartland."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Cahokia Mounds – the peaceful, sprawling historic site that sits just outside Collinsville, Illinois – was once home to thousands of people. Contemporary understandings of what life was like within the thriving ancient civilization continue to evolve and expand, and Washington University paleoethnobiologist Gayle Fritz’s new research is part of that.

Her new book “Feeding Cahokia: Early Agriculture in the North American Heartland” presents fresh findings about Cahokian agriculture – and about the role and status of the women who took the lead in this aspect of daily life.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, the professor emerita of anthropology joined St. Louis Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl to talk about it.

Washington University archaeologist John Kelly works with a student mapping research at Cahokia Mounds.
Chris King

After analyzing microscopic particles of human feces, scientists have found more evidence to support the theory that extreme-weather events may have contributed to the demise of an ancient city that built the Cahokia Mounds.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers based in California, Wisconsin and Massachusetts reported that drought and flooding that occurred around 1150 A.D. could have caused people to leave Cahokia.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site visitors can climb Monks Mound, which has more than 150 steps.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Assistant site manager Bill Iseminger stood at the base of 100-foot-high Monks Mound, bracing himself against an icy winter wind whipping across Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville. He was relating a story he’s told countless times: how the ancient Mississippians built the earthen mounds at Cahokia Mounds one basketful of dirt at a time.

Iseminger, 74, has worked at the site for 48 years and figures he’s climbed Monks Mound at least 1,000 times, though not as frequently in recent years.

From left, Kelly Sopek, Julie Zimmermann and Payne Gray spoke with host Don Marsh about their recent anthropological work at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Long before Lewis and Clark passed through the Gateway to the West, this region was home to indigenous Americans including the Cahokians.

While this civilization was primarily located about 15 minutes east of St. Louis at today’s Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, settlements were scattered across the region including the area that is now Edwardsville.

Author Mark Leach details discoveries of St. Louis' ancient Native American civilzation.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

When it comes to ancient civilizations, St. Louisans can find one in their own hometown. Centuries ago, a well-established society left wonders, most notability, the Cahokia Mounds.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with author Mark Leach, a Native American mound preservationist.

Leach’s latest book, "The Great Pyramids of St. Louis: An Ancient Metropolis” details the history of the mounds and the culture of the Native American population.

The gift shop at the state historic site is selling commemorative T-shirts but is out of eclipse glasses. August 11 2017
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Several hundred people are expected to show up at Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville on Aug. 21 to observe the solar eclipse from the “City of the Sun,” even though the historic site is just outside the path of totality.

The state historic site will experience about 99.5 percent totality and is not planning special events that day, said assistant manager Bill Iseminger.

He expects that most of the eclipse-watchers will want to climb the 156 steps to watch from the top of Monks Mound, the largest of the mounds built by the ancient Mississippians between 1000 and 1400 A.D.

Sign at the entrance to Cahokia Mounds Jan. 20, 2017
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Conservationists working to make Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville a unit of the National Park Service say they will continue their efforts under the new administration of President Donald Trump.

Staffers with the nonprofit HeartLands Conservancy had hoped that former President Barack Obama would declare Cahokia Mounds a national monument before leaving office on Friday, but that didn't happen.

Ed Weilbacher, vice president of HeartLands, says an executive order by Obama would have fast-tracked the process, but he said the effort will continue. He noted that local congressional leaders support the possibility of legislative action to bring the site into the national park system.

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

On a warm spring afternoon, Italian archaeology students from the University of Bologna were painstakingly sifting through mud from a pit they’re excavating at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville.

Heading the group is Imma Valese, 29, who’s been coming to Cahokia Mounds for six years. She has written her master’s thesis on the ancient Mississippian culture that thrived at Cahokia 1,000 years ago. Now, she’s working on her doctorate.

Steve Patterson

Kyle Reynolds drives by St. Louis’ last surviving mound, Sugar Loaf Mound, located at 4420 Ohio in south St. Louis, all the time yet he didn’t know about its existence until he read about it online. Still baffled by its significance, he turneed to St.

Photo courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Despite reduced park hours, the head of the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society says the year was brighter than expected at the Illinois state historic site, which is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico.

Geologists from the University of Wisconsin extrude a 6-meter sediment core from the deepest point of Horseshoe Lake.
Sam Munoz | University of Wisconsin

The people who built and lived among the tall, sculpted mounds now preserved at Cahokia Mounds Historic Site have long presented a mystery to archeologists.

One of the biggest mysteries: Why did they leave?

A team of geographers studying pollen deposits buried in the sediment under Horseshoe Lake may have stumbled upon new evidence that helps explain Cahokia’s decline.  

The answers are in the lake butter

Originally the Independent Brewing Company, this building was built in 1910. It falls within the planned stadium development, as do what may remain underground of the real St. Louis mounds and the Native American community that built them.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Plans for a new St. Louis football stadium seem to be moving ahead. Just last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called the stretch of riverfront near the Edward Jones Dome a “perfect” location for the new sports venue.

But it is also the site of an ancient Native American city — and that is raising concerns.

Photo courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

After word spread that the cash-strapped Cahokia Mounds Museum Society was crowdfunding to raise $7,500 to print brochures for the storied Illinois landmark -- the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico -- donations poured in from down the road, around the globe and from a mysterious alternate reality.

Photo courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Faced with declining revenue, the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society has turned to crowdfunding to raise $7,500 to print the informational brochures that are currently handed out at the world-renowned landmark, which is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico. The goal for the brochures was reached shortly after noon on Feb. 25 but has been fluctuating.

One of two Mississippian culture "birdman" repoussé copper plate found by John P. Rogan at the Etowah site in Alabama in 1883.
Herb Roe | Wikipedia

Cahokia Mounds in Fairmont City attracts a diverse group of history buffs, who are visiting one of North America’s most important historic sites, and fitness enthusiasts, who enjoy the cardiovascular challenge of the steep steps that climb to the top of Monks Mound. That is the largest of the native earthworks in the Illinois state historic site.

If these stair-steppers would step a short way down the mown path that leads east from the parking lot next to the big mound, they could see history in the making – or in the rediscovering.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

A public meeting will be held Wednesday night at Cahokia Mounds to talk about an initiative to turn the State Historic Site into a National Historical Park.

Ed Weilbacher is with the HeartLands Conservancy, the group behind the initiative.

He said most people are surprised Cahokia isn’t a National Park already.

Véronique LaCapra / St. Louis Public Radio

Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, contains mounds constructed by an ancient Mississippian people. Recent archeological discoveries made as a result of construction of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge have highlighted the people who used to inhabit the area.

A group is now trying to bolster recognition of Cahokia and the rest of the mounds by gaining some type of national designation through the National Park Service.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 18, 2012 - Driving between Metro East and St. Louis should be easier once the Mississippi River Bridge project is finished, but accessibility to the modern city could lead to the further destruction of an ancient one.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 11, 2011 - All of us carry around with us an inclination to explore our world. For some it is subconscious; for others, a reason for being. When I made application to join the Explorers Club, I wrote of my interest in exploring the archaeology of my home territory, the St. Louis region. In it, I also wrote in praise of the rewards of a most intimate form of exploration, contemplation of one's own small place in the universe and a puzzling of its mysteries. The first requires a good pair of sneakers and a bit of moxie; the latter is accomplished sitting still and prowling around one's own sensibilities.

Bike trail would link mounds and other landmarks

Jul 31, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 31, 2011 - Public meetings have been scheduled on a draft master plan for a Mounds Heritage Trail, which would connect Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville to historic mound sites in north and south St. Louis.

According to Trailnet Confluence Project Director Laura Cohen this trail is part of a larger vision for the St. Louis region. "That is the point of working together to do this. For too many years the river's been a boundary for different organizations to work together."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 14, 2011 - If you haven't bitten into "Beacon and Eggs" yet, I hope you'll join us at 8 a.m., Tues., July 19, for our inaugural "B & E" foray into Illinois. We have a good program planned for you, probably our most exotic yet, and as usual there'll be a good spread of food and plenty of coffee for all of us to enjoy.

Uncovering prehistory on the SIUE campus

Jul 7, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 7, 2011 - SIUE students learn by doing as they uncover effigy heads and flint stones on undeveloped parts of the campus. The Archeology Field School is uncovering the day-to-day life of people who lived in a farm village that traded with the big city of Cahokia about 1,000 years ago.

Vacation at home: Day 1

Aug 12, 2008
Rachel Heidenry | The Beacon

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 12, 2008 - We know it's vacation, but today you've got to get up early because we've got a full day planned. Think of this day as a substitute for that all-inclusive Mayan Riviera resort.

Rita Cooper, 67, examines pieces of clay and stone retained by the half-inch screen she used to filter dirt. 2008 photo 300 pals
Amanda King | St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 6, 2008 - While Indiana Jones strikes gold at the box office, amateur archaeologists at Cahokia Mounds state historic site are digging for a different type of treasure.

Beginning May 19, volunteers with the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society picked up their trowels and got down in the dirt, digging for clues to unravel more of the mystery surrounding the ancient mound-building society that settled the area near present-day Collinsville more than 1,300 years ago.