Before St. Louis, make a turn to Cahokia

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

I’m certain that many readers of this article have been to St. Louis, but I doubt that many of you have known about or taken the time to visit the ancient city of Cahokia. It is situated some eight miles northeast of St. Louis off Interstate 70 and located in Collinsville, Illinois.

It is the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site and an Illinois State Historic Site.

There are 23 such sites in the U.S., but none in Ohio. Three sites in Ohio are on the “U.S. Tentative List” which includes Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, Serpent Mound and the Dayton Aviation Sites.

There are some 1,000 such sites in the world including the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China and Stonehedge.

One sources states that “it is the pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic center of Mississippian culture (800-1350) which extended throughout the Mississippi Valley and the southeastern United States. This agricultural society may have had a population of 10,000-20,000 at its peak between 1050 and 1150, which was equivalent to the population of many European cities at that time. It once covered over 36,000 acres and included some 120 mounds.”

The article goes on to say: “The site is dominated by the 30+ yard high Monk Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the New World. Constructed in 14 stages, it covers and rises in four terraces to a height of 30+ yards. The mounds served variously as a construction foundation for public buildings as funerary tumuli.

“There was also an astronomical observatory (‘Woodhenge”) consisting of a circle of wooden posts. Extensive professional excavations have produced evidence of construction methods and social activities of which the structure is further testimony.”

As an added benefit to the visitor it is possible to climb to the top of the mound and on a clear day one can see the 630-foot Gateway Arch in St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist