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Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Population (1200 AD)

20,000

Introduction

If the Mississippian culture had built with stone instead of dirt, their civilization would be as famous as the Mayans and draw crowds of tourists like Angkor Wat. Instead, we collectively ignore or remain ignorant of the sophisticated civilization that dominated much of the Mississippi Valley for centuries. That is a mistake.

The Mississippians built flat-topped mounds (or pyramids), cultivated corn and other crops in the rich floodplain of the Mississippi River, developed a sophisticated social order with advanced science and art, and connected to much of North America via a vast trade network.

The story of the city at the center of Mississippian society may not unfold as quickly as at other ancient sites but give it time and you’ll be rewarded.

Visitor Information

Contact Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site directly (618.346.5160).

History

The area called the American Bottom stretches 70 miles in Illinois from Alton to Chester. The wide and fertile flood plain is the product of the merging of three big rivers: the Missouri, Mississippi, and Illinois. It’s no wonder why the area has attracted settlers for at least 12,000 years.

Paleo-Indians hunted and lived in the area, probably for centuries. Indians in the Woodlands era flourished along the Ohio River and up the Mississippi. They built thousands of mounds, cultivated crops, developed the bow and arrow and the flint hoe, and influenced centuries of religious practices.

The climate in the region warmed around 1,200 years ago and stayed more temperate and wetter for four centuries. These changes improved conditions for agriculture, which may have contributed to the rapid growth of Mississippian culture.