Monday, May 31, 2010
The City of the Sun
We toured Cahokia, the so-called "lost city of the sun", over Memorial Day weekend. I had briefly mentioned the Cahokians, and even gave a possible reason to their sudden disappearance in my book HANGING WITH A TIME SURFER, but I hadn't visited it in person until now.
There are many, many "mounds" of various sizes and shapes at the site, but it is Monk's Mound that is by far the most famous. Over twenty-two million cubic tons of dirt was hauled by human labor alone to create the structure. The Cahokians did not have pack animals. It took about 300 years they estimate for them to build the final mound as we see it today, from about 900 to 1200 AD.
A recreation of some of the towering stockade that surrounded the "sacred precincts" of Monk's Mound and the homes of the elite citizens. 20,000 trees were used and it was over 2 miles in circumference. It was rebuilt about four times in the history of the city. With an urban density of 4500 people per square mile, Cahokia (or whatever its true name was--now lost as well) was every bit as cosmopolitan as the St. Louis metro area in which it resides currently.
The Monk's Mound as seen from across the way. It does look like a hill--but how the heck did a hill get there? Eventually, the thick-headed French and English speakers in the 18th century figured out it was a man-made construction. Still, they built farms on top of it, potentially damaging precious archaeological remains.
It was the equivalent of walking up ten flights of steps to get to the top of Monk's Mound. Yes, that's TEN flights of steps. On a hot, humid, sunny day... good exercise!
The brave adventurers made it to the top of the Monk's Mound and have enough energy to smile!
Adrian points out the summer solstice at the "Woodhenge" calendar site. They built a sun calendar similar to Stonehenge. Actually they built about 5 or 6 of them over the centuries. Predicting the seasons were important to the Cahokians, who planted an abundance of corn and traded widely, from Wisconsin to the tip of Florida and from the Eastland woodlands to the Rockies.
Everyone loves a good mystery, and the "lost city of the sun" is a good one. The worrisome problem is that this U.N. World Heritage Site could be "lost" once more--to urban sprawl. We need to do what we can to save the memories of our ancestors before it is too late. Learn more about Cahokia and how you can help preserve our nation's prehistoric heritage at their web site: http://www.cahokiamounds.org/