Summer Research Summary — 2000
Three projects took place at Cahokia Mounds this summer, and all were continuations of research that took place during last two years. Two projects were coordinated by Dr. John Kelly, through the Central Mississippi Valley Archaeological Research Institute (CMVARI), and the third was directed by Dr. William Woods of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Back in the mid-1950s, Greg Perino of the Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma, excavated some exploratory trenches into Mound 34, a relatively small mound a few hundred yards east of Monks Mound, and which is one of a cluster of mounds that appear to define a plaza area. Perino found many exotic, or non-local, materials, including fancy pottery, copper, galena, shark's teeth, and sea shells.
The latter was most intriguing as some of the shells were fragmentary pieces of ceremonial cups that had been engraved with designs associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC), normally found south of here from Georgia to Oklahoma. Dr. James Brown of Northwestern University is exploring the hypothesis that the origins for some of the SECC concepts may have originated at Cahokia and spread southward, and that research into Mound 34 may elucidate information in support of this.
This exotic material led Dr. John Kelly, of Washington University, and Dr. Brown to believe this was a special elite area outside of the stockade wall-enclosed Central Precinct. Thus, they did testing to relocate Perino's old trenches with the plan to reexamine the soil profiles and features, which had not been mapped in detail, and review the context of these materials, as well as to better determine the age of the mound and its stages of construction. They led field schools from Washington University and Northwestern, and were assisted by another field school class from the University of Missouri-St. Louis under Timothy Baumann.
After two seasons of searching, the west wall of one of Perino's trenches was located last year and nearly 12 meters of the wall was exposed this year and mapped in detail. A, dark, organic, artifact laden layer defined the base of the mound, apparently soil borrowed from a nearby midden (village debris) deposit. Above this was additional mound fill of lighter soils with basket loading deposits evident. Two large pre-mound pit features were visible below the base of the mound with lots of debris in them. A couple wall trenches from structures were also evident. During the past two seasons, they also recovered more fancy pottery, nuggets of copper, a drilled shark's tooth that may have been part of a war club, a painted animal bone, mica, and marine shell, including small fragments with some engraved designs.
Perhaps the most intriguing find was what appears to have been an intentionally placed dedicatory deposit of 7 shells, possibly once in a container or wrapped up together, just below the base of the mound. One was a local mussel shell, but the others were whole or partial specimens of sea shells, including lightning whelk and fighting whelk (conch). Kelly and Brown plan to return next summer to further explore this intriguing mound.
Dr. Mary Beth Trubitt continued her pursuit of the palisade (stockade) wall around the western side of the central ceremonial precinct. Excavations during the 1960s through the 1980s had located four wall constructions on the east and south sides. Trubitt had identified some segments of the deep trenches that had been dug to support the wall posts to the south and west of the Twin Mounds during the last two seasons.
Last year, she found what appeared to be part of the wall heading toward Mound 48, in the northwest corner of the Grand Plaza, and her plan was to see if they could identify where it turned west to go around that mound. With a field school from Henderson State University, where she is now headquartered with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, Trubitt expanded some of last year's excavation units and opened some new ones. Some of the new units were placed west of the other excavations, where remote sensing tests using electrical resistivity had suggested there were subsurface disturbances suggestive of possible wall trenches.
Unfortunately, these did not turn out to be parts of the palisade, but other features, and it is not clear at this point just where the wall does turn. Future research in this area should clarify where the wall(s) continue through this part of the site.
SIU Edwardsville continued its program of trying to understand more about Monks Mound, following up on work they began with the repairs to the west slump and the installation of the new stairs up the front over the past few years.
Dr. William Woods led the project, which involved field school students from SIUE, SIU Carbondale under Dr. John Sexton, and also students from the University of Goettingen, Germany. Most of their project at Cahokia focused on the First Terrace of Monks Mound to test the hypothesis of its being a late addition to the front of the mound. They also are trying to identify other possible features, such as structures or pits, that lie below the surface.
Excavations during the 1960s-70s had identified historic period (mid 1700s) occupation, burials and a French chapel location on the west side of the First Terrace, all relating to an occupation by Illini (Illinois) Indians long after the Mississippians had left. The testing for the new stairway in the late 1990s also identified some large refuse pits near the center of this terrace, full of the remains of deer, bear, turtles, swans, fish, and other animals, as well as French period ceramics, gun parts, glass and knives. Recently, SIUE and SIUC have been using resistivity and other methods on the eastern portion of this terrace to see if they can identify additional features.
They also have been taking vertical cores across the terrace. The preliminary results seem to confirm that the First Terrace was indeed a late addition to the front of the mound, based on detected soil changes and angles of slope. The other resistivity test results are still being analyzed, but it will be interesting to see what they determine. No additional testing was done in the area of the stone mass under the Second Terrace, due to time and equipment restraints, but some work may be done this fall.