Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1998


Published in Great Plains Research Vol. 8 No. 2, 1998. Copyright ©1998 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


Cahokia is a spectacular eleventh- to twelfth-century village and earth mound complex near the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers east of present day St. Louis. This prehistoric community may have supported 10,000 inhabitants and was part of an even larger array of settlements, platform and burial mounds, and cemeteries that stretched across 86,000 acres of fertile flood plains (the American Bottoms). Extensive archaeological work associated with highway construction in the 1970s and 1980s provided rich, diverse evidence for day-to-day domestic activities, as well as regional trade, immense corvee labor projects (e.g., platform mounds, "woodhenges," and palisades), military activities, complex burial rites, and politico-religious observances. The Mississippian people, as they are referred to by archaeologists, constructed 120 earth mounds at Cahokia, including Monks Mound (300 meters square and 30 meters high). Mound building at Cahokia involved the transport of 50 million tons of earth. Consequently, archaeologists have always wanted to know more about this ancient society that mobilized and coordinated such tremendous construction efforts.