Lost Cities of the Americas (1 of 7)
Tamarois et Caouquias appears on a map of Illinois in 1718 (approximate modern state area highlighted) from Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours du Mississipi by Guillaume de L’Isle.
Location: Collinsville, Illinois, Nr St Louis, Missouri, USA
Date Of Construction: C 1050 C.E.
Abandoned: C 1350 C.E.
Built By: Mississippian Culture
Key Features: Mounds; Monks Mound; Grand Plaza; Woodhenge; Palisade
In the center of the American Midwest a collection of manmade mounds mark the site of North America’s greatest pre-Columbian city and the center of a lost civilization ignored by generations of Americans.
Huge earthworks and vast landscaped plazas testify to the existence of a well-organized and sophisticated society, but its legacy seems to have vanished almost without a trace.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site /kəˈhoʊkiə/ (11 MS 2) is located on the site of an ancient Native American city (c. 600–1400 CE) situated directly across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri.
This historic park lies in southern Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville.
The park covers 2,200 acres (890 ha), or about 3.5 square miles, and contains about 80 mounds, but the ancient city was actually much larger.
In its heyday, Cahokia covered about six square miles and included about 120 man-made earthen mounds in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and functions.
On the Mississippi floodplains of Illinois, across the river from St Louis, Missouri, lies the World Heritage Site of Cahokia Mounds.
This Illinois State Historic Site encompasses some 70 mounds, including the enormous Monks Mound, which has a base larger than that of the Great Pyramid at Giza, but there were originally around 120 in the lost city.
The site today covers around 890 hectares (2,200 acres), but in its heyday, around 1100 CE, the city had an area of 1,619 hectares (4,000 acres) and a population that may have numbered as many as 10,000-20,000 people.
It was larger than any contemporary city in Europe and not until the 19th century did any city in the New World north of Mexico surpass this.
Cahokia was the apogee of the Mississippian culture (the Cahokian culture), which developed in and around the floodplain known as the American Bottom towards the end of the 1st millennium CE.
But because it was preliterate and collapsed several centuries before the arrival of Europeans, this civilization, and particularly Cahokia itself, remains shrouded in mystery.
The ancient civilization at Cahokia took advantage of the nearby
waterways and the rich soil to sustain life in the American Bottom.
It is not known what the inhabitants of the city called it – Cahokia is the name given to the site by local historians who wanted to honor one of the subtribes of the llliniwek (Illinois) Indians who only arrived in the area in the 1600s – nor is it known who they were or what language they spoke.
While it is known that the city appeared almost within a generation, it is not known exactly why this remarkable development occurred nor why it was subsequently abandoned.
Were the tribes that lived in the area when the Europeans arrived the descendants of the Mississippians? To what extent can the legacy of this vanished civilization be traced?
The American Bottom offers rich arable land that could be cultivated even without heavy ploughs, and Neolithic peoples there grew crops such as sunflowers and squashes.
A Gourd with “Winged Bird-Man” on it.
In the 1st millennium CE the cultivation of corn spread north from Mesoamerica, triggering population growth and the emergence of the formative stages of a recognizable Mississippian culture a little before 1000 CE, evidenced by specific decorative styles on pottery and consistent use of a common set of religious symbols, such as a winged ‘bird-man’, on pottery, copper and stone artefacts.
The Mississippians lived in villages, but as the population density increased a critical mass was reached until, in around 1050 CE, the city at Cahokia sprang into existence over a relatively short time, in what some archaeologists have described as a ‘big bang’ moment.
From its center at Cahokia, Mississippian culture spread its influence over much of the upper Midwest, leaving traces from the present day Canadian border to the Gulf Coast.
The adoption of a core set of practices and styles appears to indicate that people all across this area shared a cosmology and related religious system and Cahokia has been described as the Vatican or Mecca of this system.
Cahokia was the ultimate embodiment of the characteristics that mark out the Mississippian culture, including large communal plazas; massive mounds, especially flat-topped ones; wooden palisades; characteristic styles and motifs on pottery etc.; the game of chungke (see below) and the practice of human sacrifice.
White settlers eventually made their way to the American Bottom and founded the town of Kaskaskia.
Although there is evidence of these “traits” from other Mississippian sites, at Cahokia they were present on a far grander scale than anywhere else.
Plazas were probably used for feasts and ceremonies and may also have been used for playing chungke, a game still practiced by Native Americans today.
It involves a stone disc, which is rolled down the center of a court, while the players throw javelin-like sticks, either to knock over the disc or to see who can land nearest to where it comes to a halt.
In historical times players were known to wager all their worldly goods, down to the shirts off their backs, on the game of chungke.
In Mound 72 at Cahokia, 15 chungke stones were found as part of a tribute cache to an early Cahokia leader.
City of Mounds and Plazas
The most obvious features of Cahokia are the mounds and the Grand Plaza. Mounds at Cahokia came in three main types; each one probably served a different function.
Platform or flat-topped mounds, such as Monks, usually had buildings on top of them. Cone-shaped or round-topped mounds were used for burials, while ridge-topped mounds may have served as landmarks or boundary markers, and also appear to have had mortuary functions.
The greatest mound – known as Monks Mounds because in 1811 when it was first described by an antiquarian there was a community of Trappist monks living nearby – is over 30 meters (981/2 feet) high with a base measuring approximately 300 x 240 meters (984 x 787 feet), one quarter larger than the base of the Great Pyramid.
This photo of three young Kaskasia girls belies the truth that life was difficult in the region.
Despite the rich soil and easy access to water, frequent flooding caused great upheaval for Kaskaskia residents.
It has several different terraces and platforms and a flat top where a huge wooden building once sat -possibly the residence of the paramount chief or a temple.
Monks Mound was constructed over several centuries, with new material and new layers added periodically, perhaps to mark the death of a leader and the ascension of a new one.
It has been estimated that to build it took 15 million baskets of earth deposited over 300 years. The earth came from what are known as borrow pits, some of which are still visible at the site (although many were filled in and even built over).
In 1998 work to install drains on Monks Mound, to help prevent erosion and slippage, led to the discovery of a mysterious layer of stones beneath the western side of the mound.
The layer is at least 9.75 meters (32 feet) in extent in one direction, but its full size is unknown and it does not extend under the whole mound.
The Mississippians usually preferred to build in earth and wood and the nearest possible source for the stones is at least 12.75 kilometers (8 miles) away, so clearly they must have had some special reason to go to the expense and difficulty of bringing such a mass of stone to the site.
Was it a ceremonial platform or structure? Perhaps a tomb or crypt? Was it a repair job or drainage device? The answer must remain a mystery, for the layer is too deep to excavate without removing most of Monks Mound.
Other smaller mounds surround the central Grand Plaza, which at 19 hectares (47 acres) may be the largest earthen city square in the world.
A reconstruction of the sort of thatched but that might have housed the majority of Cahokians.
Surrounding it is a wooden palisade, a distinctive feature of Mississippians culture.
It is an artificially flattened area and was skilfully constructed by levelling and filling undulations in the landscape, apparently in a single, vast construction project around 1050 CE, at the birth of Cahokia.
An 80-hectare (197/^-acre) area comprising the plaza and the mounds around it was enclosed with a 3.25-kilometre (2-mile) long palisade (wall of logs).
Although primarily a defensive feature, the stockade also served a ritual function, perhaps marking the boundaries of the sacred precinct. There were smaller plazas elsewhere.
To the west of Monks Mound stood a “woodhenge” – a circle of cedar posts, used as a solar calculator to determine the timing of equinoxes and solstices.
It was rebuilt several times, possibly to take into account the successive enlargements of Monks Mound, the profile of which it was aligned with. This woodhenge suggests that, as with the Mesoamericans, the plazas and pyramids of the Mississippians were part of a solar cult.
The Riddle of Cahokia’s Origins
In most civilizations there is a clear progression of intermediate stages of settlement evolution, but Cahokia seems to have emerged and existed as something unique in Mississippian culture, without precedent or antecedent.
Of all ancient civilizations in North America, human hands have built no greater earthwork than the Monks Mound near East St. Louis, Illinois.
The Mound Builders statesmanship, ambitious projects and workforce make them of the most important cultures of World history.
Monks Mound is situated about a mile from the Mississippi River, just north of East St. Louis, Illinois, in central United States.
In practice, however, archaeologists may have found clues regarding formative stages on the path to Cahokia.
Groups of mounds to the south of Cahokia, known as the Pulcher and Lohmann Mounds, are thought to be the remnants of much smaller Mississippian settlements/cult centers, and one theory is that these were precursors to Cahokia, where the religious ideas and practices that later triggered the development of the larger city first developed.
Elements of the Mississippian culture may also have derived from or been inspired by the Mesoamerican cultures to the south, although no Mesoamerican artifacts have ever been found at Cahokia, indicating that there were no migrations from that region.
Another theory is that Cahokia in effect gave birth to itself. Historian and archaeologist Timothy Pauketat has argued that the abrupt, large-scale coalescence of Cahokia must have involved a process of negotiations and agreements between different tribal groups or peoples, and that if the model of later peoples in this part of America is anything to go by, this process would have involved large public gatherings with massive feasts.
Excavations of borrow pits near the plaza show the remains of such feasts.
Pauketat’s theory is that the Plaza was built to allow the holding of a great gathering/feast/negotiation, which led to the creation of Cahokia.
Archaeologists discovered postholes during excavation of the site to the west of Monks Mound, revealing a timber circle.
Noting that the placement of posts marked solstices and equinoxes, they referred to it as “an American Woodhenge”, likening it to England’s well-known circles at Woodhenge and Stonehenge.
Detailed analytical work supports the hypothesis that the placement of these posts was by design.
The structure was rebuilt several times during the urban center’s roughly 300-year history.
Evidence of another timber circle was discovered near Mound 72, to the south of Monks Mound.
According to Chappell, “A beaker found in a pit near the winter solstice post bore a circle and cross symbol that for many Native Americans symbolizes the Earth and the four cardinal directions.
Radiating lines probably symbolized the sun, as they have in countless other civilizations.”
The woodhenges were significant to the timing of the agricultural cycle.
Once it was built, the plaza acted as a focal point for the Mississippian religion, providing a space for more feasts and gatherings and giving Cahokia a raison d’etre.
Once Cahokia was established, new hierarchies and social structures quickly became established, probably via the medium of gift-giving. Power in many tribal societies, especially in North America, often derives from the chiefs ability to give things away, thus binding to him lower socio-economic groups, cementing allegiances and appeasing grievances and divisions.
The End of Cahokia
Many theories have been advanced to explain the decline and abandonment of Cahokia.
Perhaps because they had no tradition of city-living, the Cahokians made little provision for mass sanitation, so the high population density must have led to disease.
Overpopulation may also have stretched the ability of the surrounding area to feed the city (and there is evidence that satellite communities were set up specifically to cater for its needs).
The high population and its consumption of wood may have led to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, flooding and rising water levels, all making it hard to sustain a city.
Two of the lesser mounds in Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park.
On the Left is a platform mound, which may have had a structure on to of it, while on the right is a round-topped mound, used for burials.
Climate change, such as the cooling associated with the Little Ice Age from c 1250, may also have played a part. Increased warfare and conflict suggests that political changes were taking place, and perhaps challenges to Cahokia’s authority.
And if a settlement the size of Cahokia was unusual in Mississippian culture, perhaps it is not so surprising that once it declined, the population subsided back to a scattered, village-centered existence.
Cahokia declined in the 13th century, and it was essentially abandoned by the late 14th century.
The Mississippian culture lived on in the southeastern USA, however, and it is thought likely that the Natchez Indians of Mississippi, described by Spanish and French explorers in the 16th to 18th centuries, may have been the inheritors of the Mississippian tradition.
Statue of Madonna and Child.
These “traits,” as presented through physical remains, indicate that Mississippian peoples shared a common (or at least similar) religious philosophy that governed their interpretation of the world and cosmos around them.
Some scientists believe religious “outposts” of Cahokia were scattered throughout the upper Midwest, interacting with local groups. These local groups may have retained much of their previous cultural and religious heritage.
Some areas to the south and east of Cahokia seemed to have adopted the Mississippian way of life more completely.
They lived in palisaded villages, played chungke, practiced human sacrifice (the existence of which at Cahokia is attested to by headless and handless skeletons interred alongside nobles in burial mounds) and followed a solar religion.
Cahokia itself, however, attracted little attention and is still comparatively unknown. The mounds were treated with little respect by early settlers who flattened them to clear farmland, and even today much of Cahokia is built on and unprotected.
There was also a trend among historians and archaeologists to deny or disparage the achievements of the Mississippians, with the mounds attributed to mythical pre-Columbian Europeans such as Phoenician or Welsh settlers, in keeping with the Manifest Destiny agenda that legitimized the dispossession of the indigenous peoples because of their”‘primitive” nature.
It’s obvious that Columbus was not the first person here, not even close, but You knew that because You have always been.
There are six more Lost Cities of the Americas in this study, and we’ll look at them another time.
The following chapter is about Giving and in Chapter Nine we’ll look at an article about how You love a..
2 Corinthians 8
The Giving of the Macedonians
1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
8:1-9:15 – Paul addresses the question of the collection of money for the distressed Christians in Jerusalem, which the Corinthians had started by not completed.
“Grace” – the grace of giving on the part of believers is more than matched by the self-giving “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
“Abundance of their joy” – in the blessings of the gospel.
3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
4 Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
“First gave their own selves to the Lord” – the true principle of all Christian giving. These Macedonian Christians are an amazing example to the Corinthian believers and to the church in every age of the dynamic that God’s grace makes in the lives and attitudes of His people – a central theme of this letter.
6 Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.
7 Therefore, as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.
8 I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.
“I speak not by commandment” – true charity and generosity cannot be commanded, God doesn’t even command it, but as you will see in the next chapter, He does love a cheerful giver.
“Sincerity of their love” – they can prove this by giving selflessly and spontaneously.
9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
“Though he was rich…He became poor” – the eternal Son, in His incarnation and His atoning death in our place on the cross, emptied Himself of His riches (see Phil 2:7).
“Through his poverty might be rich” – the supreme and inescapable incentive of all genuine Christian generosity.
10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago.
11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.
12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
“According to that a man hath” – what matters is the willingness, which is the motive of true generosity, no matter how small the amount that can be afforded. An outstanding example of one who put this principle into practice is the poor widow (Mk 12:41).
The above scripture is not understood by most, if not all, of the wealthy, such as Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. They can’t comprehend it due to their own selfishness and greed.
13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:
14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:
15 As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
16 But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.
17 For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you.
18 And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches;
19 And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind:
20 Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us:
It is important not only that God sees but also that people see that one is carrying on the Lord’s work in a properly, ethical and honest manner.
21 Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
22 And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you.
23 Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow helper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ.
24 Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.
…a cheerful giver.