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The Pyramid of Mississippi.

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Author Topic: The Pyramid of Mississippi.  (Read 138 times)
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« on: May 05, 2008, 04:30:36 pm »


MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Mississippi River has its mysteries, but none that can touch the one that unfolded on its banks 1,000 years ago in what is now southwestern Illinois, across the river from St. Louis. We began the second week of our journey down the Mississippi by visiting the eerily magnificent mounds of the native American metropolis of Cahokia and hearing an archeologist describe the rapid rise and fall of “the city that history forgot.”

Every good mystery needs a detective, and we found ours in Tim Pauketat, an associate professor of archeology at the University of Illinois and a leading expert on Cahokia. Also joining us for our tour of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site was Susan Alt, a post-graduate student who is working on her dissertation on Cahokia and the surrounding villages.

As we began our tour by climbing Cahokia’s biggest mound — a tiered pyramid known as Monks Mound for a group of Trappist monks who built a monastery nearby in the early 1800s — Pauketat filled us in on the basics of what is known about the city and its people.
One of the most significant discoveries to date is Mound 72, a ridge-top burial mound in which archeologists found the remains of an important ruler, a male in his 40s, lain on a bed of more than 20,000 marine shell disc beads. Nearby were caches of arrow tips from present-day states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin, apparently sent in tribute to the deceased.

Also buried nearby were the bodies of many men and women, the victims of a mass execution at the same time of the man’s burial.

Though the reasons for the human sacrifices remain unclear, Pauketat said it appears the deaths were part of “a theatrical ritual, and the roles seem to be mythical,” possibly a retelling of the story of creation.

Mythical creatures like the birdman, a human looking figure with a falcon beak, also figure prominently in Cahokian artworks.

While such tidbits give glimpses of the ancient Cahokians, many aspects of their lives are shrouded by the passage of time, including the name by which they knew their city.

The name Cahokia comes from a clan of the Illinois Indians — the Cahokia — that was living in the area when the first French explorers arrived in the early 1600s. But the city’s original name was never recorded because the Cahokians had no form of writing. And strangely, no stories referring to the great city were ever recorded among the tribes that are believed to be their direct descendants — the Osage, Omaha, Ponca and the Quapaw, among others.

One theory, put forward by anthropologist Alice Kehoe, suggests that “Cahokia had some negative associations and when people left they were trying to get away from it and they intentionally forgot about it,” said Pauketat. “… (The Indians) didn’t talk about it, Euro-Americans came in, they didn’t care about it. So this place is sort of the city that history forgot.”

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