North American Burial Mounds- Remnants of a Sophisticated Society

By: The Scribe on Friday, March 18, 2011

Many people have heard of burial mounds that can be found in many countries around the world. One of the best examples of a burial mound complex can actually be found in the United States. Located near Collinsville, Illinois, the Cahokia Mounds archaeological site has been declared to be the largest earthen construction in the Americas that dates from the prehistoric era. The only prehistoric earthen constructions that are larger are found to the south in Mexico as well as elsewhere in Central and South America.

It is difficult to tell exactly when building began on the Cahokia site. This is because the people who lived in the area and built the mounds did not leave any written records behind. The only examples of their writing consisted of symbols that were found on copper, wood, stone and pottery. These have been found at the site and show that the area was lived in as well as used as a burial site. The city of Cahokia was settled around 600 CE and evolved into a sophisticated city with plazas, stockades and watchtowers. This was not surprising considering the fact that the city was a center for trade and, at one time, was the largest urban center north of the cities in Mexico. There may have been as many as 40,000 people living at Cahokia at the city’s peak.

This massive burial structure is found at CahokiaThe main feature that dominates the area is Monk’s Mound. This mound is ten stories or ninety-two feet high. It is a massive nine hundred and fifty one feet in length and eight hundred and thirty six feet long. The mound took several centuries to complete. While it is massive, it is not the only interesting feature that can be found in the area.

One of the most interesting features is actually the Grand Plaza that stretches out from Monk’s Mound. The Grand Plaza seems to be where ceremonies were held by the residents who were living at the mound. Studies have shown that while the landscape was originally undulating, the residents were able to level and fill it in order to make a flat area where they could worship, celebrate and play games. It was one of four large, flat areas that radiate out from Monk’s Mound.

Another example of the site’s sophistication includes the Woodhenge. This was a circle of This collection of wooden posts was used in astronomyposts that was used in astronomy. It was made up of a series of posts which were placed so that they marked equinoxes and solstices. The wooden posts served much the same purpose as the stones that made up Stonehenge. Archaeologists were able to prove that not only was Woodhenge rebuilt several times during the past, remnants of another Woodhenge were also found near another one of the area’s burial mounds.

Although Cahokia was home to a sophisticated civilization, it eventually began to decline. This began in 1300 CE and the site was completely abandoned by the time the Europeans arrived in the area although some indigenous tribes did continue to live in the area. There have been many theories as to why the site was abandoned, ranging from disease to over hunting, deforestation and environmental issues that may have caused the area to become uninhabitable.


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