Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cahokia Mounds

As I've mentioned before, we eat pizza at least once a week.   Our latest pepperoni pie featured a large yeast bubble that had been baked into it.  Schnickelfritz usually insists on eating the bubbled slice and refers to it as Mount Everest.  This time he dubbed it with a new title: Monk's Mound.  That's when I knew that our latest field trip had really captured his imagination.  We are starting our study of Missouri history long before the arrival of European explorers.  The Mississippian culture actually lived on both sides of the mighty river, but we travelled to Illinois to see the remains of their great city: Cahokia.

I have to confess that I've never visited Cahokia Mounds even though I grew up within an hour's drive of the site.  I always thought it was just the place that the kooky people converged on for the summer solstice.  Our trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Indiana  coincided with the Mound's Archeology Day so we made a slight detour off the interstate.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised at what we found.

The visitor's center/museum greeted us with this artist's depiction of what the city  would have looked like during its heyday.  Cohokia is situated in the Mississippi River Bottoms, a flood plain that would receive annual silt deposits.  The rich earth yielded abundant crops--enough to feed a population of 20,000, enough to store some for years of poor crops, and enough left to trade for other goods.  Traders would come to Cahokia from as far away as the Great Lakes, the Atlantic coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.    The Chief of Cahokia (who probably lived on the top of Monk's Mound) had wealth beyond measure.   All this was explained in a 17 minute movie, at the end of which the screen was lifted and we were invited to walk through a life-size exhibit of family life in Cahokia.

The museum had plenty of interactive exhibits: trails would light on maps, drawers could be opened to display artifacts.  Schnickelfritz seemed drawn to a diorama showing the changes in activities through the seasons.

Because this was Archeology Day, there were special outdoor exhibits and activities for the kids.  One station had shells and rocks for the kids to chip away at to form jewelry and perhaps tools or arrowheads.  Other stations held artifacts found in the Illinois/Missouri region.

The boys seemed to congregate at the hunting skills exhiibit--Atlatl spearthowing.  Instead of gripping a spear by the shaft, it is held in a launching device.  The arm makes a motion like passing a football but at the end of the motion there is a flick of the wrist which really launches the spear.  I can see how this device adds to the distance of the throw.  It would take a lot of practice to overcome the wobbling of the spear and develop accuracy.  I'd say a lot of little warriors would have gone home hungry today.

Schnickelfritz made sure of his dinner though--while collecting his launched spears he managed to jab the cut out target shaped like a turkey.

Cahokia is still an active archaeological site, the largest north of Mexico.  We could see two dig sites from atop Monk's Mound.  In the shade of the Visitor's center we had the opportunity to get a little taste of the archeologist's work.  A volunteer would pour a small sample of findings into a sieve.  We would shake the sieve in a tub of water to remove some of the dirt.  Then we could remove individual items for a more thorough cleaning with toothbrushes and sponges.  Then the items were sorted in a box: bones, pottery, rocks, etc.  Fritz seemed most interested in cleaning bones.  We found the patella from a deer, a piece of spine, and a leg bone.

The bag that held the items had a detailed label describing exactly where they had been collected.

This meticulous grid system was explained very well in an archeology exhibit in the Visitor's Center.

If we didn't still have a 4 hour drive ahead of us, we could have taken a guided tour of the site.  In addition to the various mounds there is evidence of an astronomical calendar structure like Stonehenge but made of timbers.  When staff aren't available you can rent an Ipod with a recorded tour.  Our visit wouldn't be complete though until we journeyed to the top of Monk's Mound.  Fritz  wanted the sense of accomplishment, I wanted him to use up as much energy as possible before he was confined to the car.

The last thing I wanted to see after climbing around 50 steps was another set of stairs--nearly twice as many and at a much steeper incline.  At least there was a bench to rest if necessesary.  Fritz and I both agreed the view at the top was worth it.


Catherine said...

What a stunning view! It looks like you had a great day, thanks for sharing it with us. The pictures are fantastic! I am guilty of not seeing many of our local attractions, myself. There is so much to do here, in all directions! We could have a field trip every day!

Julieanne said...

Wow - my children would have REALLY loved something like this! We studied these mounds, briefly, a few years ago in our Mystery of History text, but to actually see them would be wonderful! Thank you for sharing this with us!


Penny Koshiol said...

Fantastic field trip! The picture of the mural makes a great overview for the post.

Visiting from the crew, Comment Club, and GFC follower.


PK @

MOmama said...

The mural really helped us visualize what things used to look like instead of just seeing grassy bumps on the ground.

MOmama said...

It's was a blessing that this wonderful site and museum was less than two miles off the interstate although it would have been worth taking a longer detour.

MOmama said...

We went to Indiana to help my parent move to Missouri. As we toured the area one last time my mom kept saying "Oh, I meant to see this" and "I always wanted to visit there." A not-New-Year's resolution: If you think something will be interesting, plan the visit NOW!

kympossible said...

Very interesting! I'd love to visit there, and I bet my kids would too.

GuidingLight said...

This looks awesome and sounds like it really made an impression! Love learning opportunities like that!

Catherine said...

I'm stopping by again to thank you for linking up to the blog hop!

Catherine said...

I'm also following with GFC. (sorry, I thought i was already!)

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