Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site | St. Louis Public Radio

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

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.

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.

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.