Cahokia, Illinois

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Cahokia was the largest pre-Columbian urban site north of Mexico, and has the largest prehistoric earthwork anywhere in the Americas. At one time the site was very close to the Mississippi, but meander cutoffs have now moved the river well to the west.

Cahokia is not located near the present town of Cahokia, but just outside Collinsville.

Above, reconstructions of parts of the stockade.

Left and below: numerous mounds visible from the base of Monks Mound. The site is meticulously groomed.

Monks Mound

Not named for the comically obsessive detective, but for some French missionaries that once lived nearby. As the sign says, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas.

Staircase to the first level.
Below: views from the top of the stairs.
Left: looking toward the upper level.

Below: skyline of St. Louis in the distance, with the Gateway Arch on the left.

Left and below: views from the top of Monks Mound

The panorama below starts looking northwest over the pond. The road in front of the mound runs east-west and the walkway up the mound extends nearly due south. The right edge of the picture is nearly due west. There is no single vantage point on the mound that allows a complete panorama so there are some joins visible.

A rather formidable beetle.
This image from Google Earth shows clearly that there have been numerous slope failures around the mound.

They did this by hand. Cut them some slack.

Left, along the east side of the mound, the low terrace at the base of the mound in the distance is probably a slump.
Left: east side of Monks Mound

Below: distant views of Monks Mound from the west (left) and southwest (right).


Woodhenge was apparently an astronomical site that used wooden poles to sight sunrise and sunset. There were at least two reconstructions of the site.
Reconstruction of Woodhenge.

Interpretive Center

Views of mounds near the Interpretive Center.
Below: Engraved stones  
Below: Figurines Many of the more elaborate objects are reproductions of originals in other museums.
Below: Pottery and other vessels  
Some of the more exotic materials at Cahokia: mica from the Appalachians and copper from Michigan
Cahokia was larger than London in 1250 AD, and not until 1800 would there be a larger city (Philadelphia) in the United States.

Below: the round, indented stones, called "cunkey stones," were used in a bowling type game. At top center in the left photo is a sculpture of a player about to roll a stone.
Seashells and beads. The shells are obviously marine and came from the Gulf Coast. There was a vast hand-to-hand trade network dealing in copper from Lake Superior, obsidian from Yellowstone, shells from the Gulf of Mexico and mica from the Great Smoky Mountains.
A piece of decorated pottery plus samples of ocher used in coloring and shells and sharks' teeth from the Gulf Coast.
Left and below: a particularly lavish burial included a large amount of mica, many shell beads and numerous projectile points.
Left: exquisite projectile points

Below: Adze heads and other implements.
Left: Stone drills.
Left and below: adze heads and other implements.
Left: A sample of woven material

Below: Artists' conceptions of how Cahokia may have looked in its prime.

Return to Historic Sites Index
Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page

Created 5 March 2009, Last Update !--webbot bot="Timestamp" S-Type="EDITED" S-Format="%d %B %Y" -->