Exploring Collinsville’s Ancient Cahokia Landmarks

Exploring Collinsville's Ancient Cahokia Landmarks

The Cahokia Mounds are located northeast of St Louis, Missouri, and represent the largest pre-Columbian native settlement north of Mexico. The mounds are an example of a complex chiefdom society during the Mississippian period, which was between 800 and 1400 AD. The most striking feature is the Monks Mound, the most expansive prehistoric earthwork in the Americas.

Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site

More specifically, the Cahokia Mounds are located in Collinsville, IL. The civilization that lived here likely had a population between 10,000 and 20,000 at its peak, spanning the years 1050 and 1150. This is similar in size to many European cities in existence at the same time. The civilization associated with the Cahokia Mounds likely spanned the Mississippi Valley and parts of the southeastern United States.

The Cahokia Mounds Historic Site encompasses 51 platform mounds, ridgetop mounds, and conical mounds. It also covers residential, public, and various activity areas. A section of the reconstructed palisade helps to define the borders and blueprints of the settlement. The Monks Mound was the most dominant structure in the community. It was built in 14 stages and stands at a height of 30 meters with four terraces.

Another interesting feature has been dubbed Woodhenge. It consists of a circle with wooden posts, similar to Stonehenge, and was likely an astronomical observatory. The mounds within the settlement were either funerary tumuli or foundations for public buildings.

What To See

There are 70 mounds out of the original 120 mounds at the Cahokia site. Visitors can use a stairway to climb to the top of Monks Mounds. Various signs explain the impressive view and what can be seen from the top. A reconstructed stockade wall and the aforementioned Woodhenge feature are also interesting sites for visitors. Woodhenge served as an astronomical observatory where the sunrise could be aligned to determine the season.

The Interpretive Center on-site serves as a museum, gallery, and village recreation location. Within the center, visitors can also enjoy a gift shop and snack areas. Various programs are held at the Center, including an orientation show called City of the Sun. The Interpretative Center is open from 9 AM to 5 PM Thursday through Sunday. It is closed most Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, except for special open dates on Memorial and Labor Day.

The grounds are open from 8 AM to dusk every day. Guided tours are available at 10 AM and 2 PM on days when the Center is open. Self-guided tours are available at any time. The trails also include signs to explain various features.

Illinois State Historic Site

Along with being a UNESCO site, the Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, IL, is owned by the State of Illinois and has been designated as a State Historic Site. As a State Historic Site, the Cahokia Mounds enjoy a protected status, which includes preservation and restoration efforts. Its protected status has been in existence since 1925 and the Interpretive Center opened in 1989.

Various vulnerabilities for the site include erosion, flooding, development, and invasion by deep-rooted plant species. As of 2008, an updated Master Management Plan was designed to address these concerns and keep the site in its current state.


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