How Cahokia Was Mighty

North of Mexico, the pre-Colombian settlement of Cahokia was the most influential and intricate
Native American community in North America. A society of mound builders, which endured
from about 9500 B.C. to 1400 A.D., they set up a massive trading center complete with their own
types of governing bodies, architecture, religion, sophisticated farming, and local specialties. In
one way or another, the Cahokian culture touched even the far reaches of the present day United
States, from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, from the Atlantic coast to Oklahoma, all from
its central location in the Mississippi region. It is for these reasons that Cahokia was a superior
power in the New World before the Europeans came, and even now, can be considered important
and mighty.
The first factor that indicates the might of the Cahokian culture is the great structures of
earth that they created for public buildings, residences of the nobility, religious purposes, and as
burial ground. These mounds, 120 in number, were built on an area exceeding five square miles,
and usually were between six and twelve feet in height. The largest mound however, named
Monks mound for the colony of Trappist monks who later tried colonize atop the construction,
covers today 14 acres at the base and rises 100 feet in height. What is even mightier about this
mound, which happens to be the largest pre-historic earthen structure in the New World, is that
it took over 19 million hours of labor to complete, and that it was done all by hand. The 22
million cubic feet of dirt it took to form the mound, was deposited in stages from about 900 to
1200 A.D.. The greatness that is Monks mound was probably used for governing, ceremonies,
and for the Cahokian leaders living spaces and burial plots. Another remarkable mound in
Cahokia, simply called Mound 72, was designed by the Cahokians so that one end of it faced the
rising sun of the winter solstice, and the opposite end faced toward the setting sun of the summer
An additional type of architecture in the Cahokia realm that fascinated the excavators
who found its remnants, are wood henges. Labeled for a likeness to Englands Stone-henge,
the wood henges are several circles with different diameters of hundreds of feet and are made up
of posts at regular intervals. What is so amazing about them is that the number of posts in each
circle are in multiples of 12 (24, 36, 48, 60, and 72). It is believed that the posts marked lunar
cycles and other celestial arrangements.
A further detail that proves Cahokias eminence is most obviously the actual size and
complex set-up of the settlement. During its peak, circa 1100, Cahokia was populated by an
estimated 10-20,000 people. These people lived in simple one-family homes, which in groups
formed compounds, and several compounds made up communal plazas that were much like
neighborhoods. In the center of Cahokia was Monks mound, which was surrounded by temples
and homes of nobility. Around this Grand Plaza, was a stockade built of 20,000 logs for
protection. Special buildings were also included in the Cahokian compounds and communal
plazas. Each had buildings for the storage and cooking of food, meeting houses, and steam
lodges for spiritual and physical cleansing, among other things. Like any great city has suburbs,
Cahokia had satellite settlements which surrounded it. These smaller communities, also made up
of mounds, were influenced heavily by Cahokia.

Lastly, a crucial element that argues Cahokias true force on the primeval peoples of
North America, are the large amounts of goods made of foreign resources found at the Cahokia
site. Examples of this include, but are not limited to, copper from Lake Superior, mica from the
East, and shells from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Also, as well as there being imported products
in Cahokia, there are also Cahokian products and imitations of Cahokian products found on
Native American sites all over the United States.
As mighty as Cahokia was, the people there did not survive. By about 1400, the
settlement was abandoned. There are several ideas of why this happened, but nothing has been
proved. Even so, there are things that have transcended the era of the Cahokian people, such as
artifacts, bones, and of course the mounds, that aide our imaginations in visualizing the majesty
of what was mighty Cahokia.

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