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Cahokia: The American Rival to the Inca, Mayan, and Aztec Civilizations

Updated on August 23, 2016
Artist rendition in 1100 AD
Artist rendition in 1100 AD
Monk's Mound today
Monk's Mound today

Just eight miles from today’s city of St. Louis, Illinois, 400 years before Cristopher Columbus discovered America, proving the world was round, there was Cahokia. Unlike the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs of Mexico, which remain premier archeological sites, Cahokia remains a mystery because it was the largest city-like place north of Mexico populated by those in the Mississippi area. It was a city much like early London was in population.

Cahokia began as a planned city around 1000 AD, and at its height, had up to 20,000 people from various areas that traded, hunted and farmed. Like the other civilizations, they built massive earth mounds. The largest remains today at 100 feet high and covering 14 acres of land. Archeological digs have determined the city had a town center with broad plazas and key buildings. By 1050 AD, it was a small city by today’s standards. However, it vanished by 1350, but not due to floods, diseases or war. People simply left.

The first to visit the area was not until 1540 when the Spanish explorer, De Soto, arrived. Cahokia seems to have been a Mecca-like destination for the locals in this area. They made the pilgrimage for their religious events, much as Muslims do when going to Mecca.

The city itself was between six and nine square miles with 120 earth mounds. It would have taken several decades to move 55 million cubic feet of earth to create the largest mound. This largest mound contained the town center and was two miles in circumference. This where the high priests and other religious leaders performed ceremonies and worshipped. Researchers found one leader from a grave, the remains of a tall man buried about the year 1050. He died in his early 40s and was laid to rest on about 20,000 shell ornaments and more than 800 apparently unused arrows with finely made heads. Also in the same grave were 53 women skeletons, ages 15 to 25. No doubt a sacrifice to the Gods.

The commoner lived in single room homes with wooden walls and thatched roofs about 15 ft. long x 12 ft. wide. There were many of them linked with courtyards and shared physical connections akin to streets or neighborhoods. Like at Stonehenge, they had erected tall posts to track the sun to determine summer and winter solstices and equinoxes. Copper workshops were discovered. Mass graves were found and determined that these women and children were human sacrifices. Some had been strangled, others with hands cut off. Because of this find, researchers suspect Cahokia residents fled once the ritual sacrifices became too extreme in the hundreds.

What is odd is how these civilizations have similarities, yet thousands of miles apart, or a continent away. Is this just an anomaly?


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