Looking for a weekend trip? Want to visit a World Heritage site? How about the third largest pyramid base in the world? You do not even have to leave Illinois.
Cahokia Mounds, located in what is now St. Clair County, Illinois, was the largest pre-Columbian indigenous city north of Mexico. Built where the Missouri River feeds into the Mississippi, the city was a principal trade hub that connected peoples and goods from Canada to Appalachia to Mexico. At its most populated, Cahokia reached 40,000 inhabitants, a population not matched in the U.S. until the late 18th century. At the time, approximately 1,100 C.E., it was one of the most populated cities in the world, greater than major European cities like London and Paris.
Today, Cahokia stands as a testament to the sophistication of indigenous people. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the settlement complex is an architectural marvel. Covering over 6.5 square miles, Cahokia contains 120 earthen mounds, with additional satellite sites, serving religious, political, and social purposes. Located in a flood plain, the site had to be drained and many tons of rock and soil had to be moved to construct the plazas and mounds. The principal structure, Monk’s Mound covers over an immense 14 acres, making it the largest earthen structure and the third largest pyramid base in the world, rivaled only by the Sun Pyramid in Teotihuacán and the Great Pyramid in Cholula, Mexico.
Much is left to be discovered about Cahokia. An active archaeological site, researchers are re-discovering cultural, economic, social, and religious artifacts. We are constantly expanding our understanding of the land’s first people.
What can you discover?
Barnes, Ian. The Historical Atlas of Native Americans. Edison, N.J. : Chartwell Books, 2009.
Johnson, Michael, and Richard Hook. Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America. Buffalo, New York : Firefly Books Inc., 2014.
Kehoe, Alice Beck. “Cahokia, the Great City.” OAH Magazine Of History 27, no. 4 (October 2013): 17. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 5, 2016).