Almond Joy’s got nuts. Cahokia Mounds don’t.

Please pardon my nutty blog title. It was the first to make me chuckle during my three-minute blog title brainstorm, and frankly, I like it.

If you can get past the cheese factor of the title, you can probably guess that Mikey and I made a recent visit to the Cahokia Mounds. And you’re right. A few months ago, a Cahokia Mounds Groupon caught my eye, and since I had never been before, I thought it would give me good reason to check it out.

The Cahokia Mounds are ancient Indian burial grounds, located about 25 minutes from downtown St. Louis in the small town of Cahokia, Illinois. Most of my peers will probably be astounded to know that I’d never visited this place. For anyone who grew up in the St. Louis area, the Cahokia Mounds seem to be a required elementary school field trip. But since I didn’t move to the area until I was in 8th grade, a lot of those field trips had come and gone. And once I got into high school, I didn’t have any interest whatsoever in history, nature or the arts. (Unless you consider Abercrombie & Fitch art — which it most certainly is not.) So at 27 years of age, I finally crossed Cahokia Mounds off my St. Louis area sight-seeing list.

Why on earth Mikey and I decided to visit the Cahokia Mounds in the midst of raging, sweltering, make-up-melting, blistering hot heat, I do not know. It was probably the worst idea ever, since the mound grounds have little to no shade and involve a good deal of walking. Despite the heat wave, the visit proved to be very enlightening. Our Groupon included an iPod walking tour of the grounds, that gave the backstory of the mounds.

I am not pissed. I am hot. Or maybe I’m pissed because it is hot.

Thousands of years ago, Cahokia was inhabited by a highly-sophisticated civilization of Native Americans that archaeologists now call the Mississippians. Hard to believe it now, but Cahokia was the most advanced society north of Mexico in North America. They were 20,000 strong and thrived on the crops they grew — primarily corn, along with wildlife and indigenous plants that kept them fed throughout the four seasons.

With as much as archeologists have uncovered about how the Missippians lived, there is very little known as to how and why this advanced society vanished. There are a number of speculations. Were they unable to sustain their way of life due to disease and infection? Did they deplete all of their resources? Seems likely for any society in that day and age. Did they flee in fear of other Indian tribes that became a growing threat? The walls built around the settlement could be an indication. Did the weather patterns change? Cooler summers and shorter growing seasons around 1250 A.D. could have driven them away. It really is a mystery, and all that remains are the mounds.

The walking tour led us to various mounds around the site, but the ones I found most intriguing were Mound 72 and Monks Mound.

Mound 72 was where archaeologists uncovered more than 250 skeletons. As many as 50-some female skeletons were found in one grouping. Our tour guide said the people in Mound 72 died as a result of human sacrifice. The Mississippians were a spiritual society that worshipped the sun, and human sacrifices were common. It’s kinda creepy standing in the very place where so many people were buried — and as a result of human sacrifice at that. Mikey and I have been to the Mayan Ruins at Tulum in the Riviera Maya and never once got that eery feeling. Mound 72 was certainly a much different experience.

Monk’s Mound is the largest of the burial sites, and you can easily spot it from the road right before you turn onto the site grounds. It’s believed that a person of great importance (perhaps the tribe chief) lived on this large mound, as there are multiple terraces to encounter on your way up the long staircase to the top. Archaeologists were able to determine that this man-made mound was created using one large 50-some pound baskets at a time. Can you imagine lugging endless amounts of 50-lb dirt baskets in the blazing hot sun? And how amazing is it that archaeologists determined the actual size of the baskets as well as the amount of dirt in them? They could tell based on the varying colors and textures of the dirt.

Monk’s Mound side view

Long way up to the top of Monk’s Mound

I would love to say that when we reached the top of Monk’s Mound, there was a refreshing breeze to cool us down. But there wasn’t. Nope. Still hotter than hell at the top. On a positive note, there were cool views of the St. Louis Arch and the mighty Mississippi River. And there happened to be a few spots of purple prickly wildflowers that I captured on camera.

At the end of our excursion, I was relieved to actually leave — only because my shorts and shirt were drenched with sweat, and we were both due for another round of deodorant. We learned a lot during our visit to the Cahokia Mounds, and I would do it again, especially if we’re ever entertaining history buffs.

If you’re in the St. Louis area or will be visiting some time soon, I noticed they’re offering another deal on Groupon. Only $10 for a self-guided audio/visual tour. Hopefully you get to go on a day that’s uncharacteristically cool.

Enjoy the rest of the pics!

At first, I thought the property had some major landscaping issues. But these are actually protected prairie gardens sprinkled throughout the historical site.

Black-eyed Susans withering away in the blistering heat

This Black-Eyed Susan is in better shape.

View of Mound 60. A ridge-top mound because of its flat top.

Mound 59. Called a conical mound because of its round, cone-shaped top.

Gazing out onto the Grand Plaza, an open space in between all the mounds.

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3 Comments

Filed under St. Louis, Travel

3 responses to “Almond Joy’s got nuts. Cahokia Mounds don’t.

  1. Pingback: Top of the Gateway Arch | Everything Glitters

  2. What is the name of the purple flower pictured? It’s driving me crazy! Lol

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