From 800 A.D. (the demise of Mayan civilization 1,500 miles South of it) to 1150 A.D. (the Middle Ages and the Bubonic Plague in Europe), it was the site of one of the largest cities in the world. Approximately 10,000-20,000 Mississippian Indians lived there and produced 120 earthen mounds of varying sizes.
The largest, Monk's Mound, is a platform mound or truncated pyramid, 10 stories high, with 22 million cubic feet of soil, surrounded by a two mile long stockade fence. Monk's Mound probably had a ceremonial purpose and was most likely home to the Chief and his society of priests.
Currently, a dozen archeology students from across the U.S. are continuing excavation for the outline of the stockade fence. Other archaeologists have discovered five rings at the Eastern end of Monk's Mound where posts driven into the ground marked the summer and winter solstices (the longest and shortest days of the year, respectively).
Reconstructed in 1985 and visible today, this "American Wood-henge" casts certain shadows at these times as the sun rises over Monk's Mound. These "solar calendars" were important to the Mississippians who grew corn, sunflowers, and squash.
I was there to witness this event. There were about a dozen of us at 5:30a.m. as we waited for the sun to rise. Some beat drums, some burned incense, some prayed, or just spred their blankets or camp chairs to watch. A cheer went up as the sun rose and summer officially began.
More events are upcoming at Cahokia Mounds. The Mounds Trail Interpretive Bicycle Tour is recommended for experienced riders and occurs there on June 23. (For more information, call 314-436-1324).
The Annual Contemporary Indian Art Show occurs July 14-15. (For more information, call 618-346-5160). Finally, Archeology Day is celebrated there on August 4 with "demonstrations of ancient crafts, artifact processing, hands-on activities, dig tours, and story telling".
For more information on all of the above, go to www.cahokiamounds.org.