Painting With a Purpose Fundraiser

Join us for a fun new way to support Cahokia Mounds!  The Museum Society is hosting a fundraiser at Painting with a Twist, 3760 Green Mt. Crossing Dr., Shiloh, IL on January 14, from 1-4 pm.  The fee is $35.  All supplies are provided and their artist will guide the instruction step-by-step so there is no need for experience!  Children 7 and up are welcome to register.  Painting with a Twist will donate HALF of all registrations to Cahokia Mounds!   You will be painting your very own winter scene and supporting cultural preservation and interpretation.  There are only 45 available spots in the studio so join us on January 14 and paint with a PURPOSE!  Register by going to

Shop Amazon Smile to Support Cahokia Mounds

You can support Cahokia Mounds when you shop at using the Amazon Smile portal.  By clicking the link below, which designates Cahokia Mounds as a recipient, Amazon will donate 5% of your qualifying sales to Cahokia Mounds at no additional cost to you! From all of us here at Cahokia Mounds, have a safe and Merry HOLIDAY SEASON!


New Discoveries from Cahokia’s ‘Beaded Burial’…

The people buried in one of America’s most famously ornate prehistoric graves are not who we thought they were, researchers say.

A new study of 900-year-old human remains originally unearthed in Illinois almost 50 years ago reveals that their burial has been fundamentally misunderstood — from the number of people actually buried there, to the sexes of those interred.

The dead were elites in the ancient city of Cahokia, a cultural hub of the Midwest that, at its peak around the year 1100, was home to as many as 10,000 people.

[Read about a recent discovery in the heart of the city: “Ceremonial ‘Axis’ Road Discovered in Heart of Ancient City of Cahokia“]

And the new discoveries made at their burial site — part of a mass grave known as Mound 72 — could have anthropologists re-thinking the politics, culture, and cosmology of one of America’s most influential prehistoric cultures.

“Mound 72 burials are some of the most significant burials ever excavated in North America from this time period,” said Dr. Thomas Emerson, director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), in a statement to the press.

When Mound 72 was first excavated in 1967, researchers uncovered more than 270 people buried there in a series of mass graves.

Mound 72 human sacrifice
An artist envisions a mass sacrifice of young women in Cahokia around 1000 CE that may have filled one of the more notorious graves in Mound 72 (Credit: Herb Roe)

Many of them were victims of human sacrifice.

[Learn about new insights about the victims: “Victims of Human Sacrifice at Cahokia Were Locals, Not ‘Foreign’ Captives, Study Finds”]

But the mound’s centerpiece was a scene that that archaeologists described as a resplendent grave of six elite men.

Four of the skeletons were arranged in a sort of three-sided frame. One was just a bundle of bones; two others were laid flat; the other was face-down, with one of its legs bent up to his chest.

The men were buried with ceramics, gaming stones, copper-covered shafts, jewelry, and artifacts that have been traced from as far away as Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the center of these remains were two more bodies, one stacked on top of the other, and blanketed with more than 20,000 beads made from marine shells. The coating of beads appeared to be arranged into a tapered shape, resembling the head of a bird.

In this tableau, many anthropologists at the time, including the mound’s excavator, Dr. Melvin Fowler, saw obvious references to the belief systems of modern Native American groups, from the Sioux to the Osage.

Specifically, they theorized that the so-called Beaded Burial was an homage to the myth of the Birdman, a legendary falcon-warrior hero whose beaked face has appeared on artifacts from Cahokia to Georgia.

In some traditions, Birdman is interpreted as a version of Red Horn, another heroic figure whose twin sons fought off a race of giants.

Thus, these anthropologists said, the two men buried under the bird-shaped blanket of beads must have been warrior-kings, patriarchs who were living proxies of the Birdman/Red Horn legend.

“One of the things that promoted the concept of the male warrior mythology was the bird image,” Emerson said, referring to the supposed arrangement of the beads.

Grave goods including chunky stones likely used in games, Cahokia-style tri-notched projectile points, and marine shell disc beads were among the artifacts found among the Beaded Burial. (Photo by L. Brian Stauffer)

In keeping with this idea, the four other men in the grave were suggested to be the warriors’ henchmen, or possibly stand-ins for other, supporting players in the Birdman/Red Horn story.

Regardless, the implications were clear: Cahokia was ruled by male warriors.

“Fowler’s and others’ interpretation of these mounds became the model that everybody across the east was looking at, in terms of understanding status and gender roles and symbolism among Native American groups in this time,” Emerson said.

But, having recognized inconsistencies in the records of Fowler’s half-century-old excavation, Emerson and four of his colleagues undertook a new investigation of the bones from the Beaded Burial.

And they found that many of the men buried there weren’t men.

“We had been checking to make sure that the individuals we were looking at matched how they had been described,” said Dr. Kristin Hedman, a physical anthropologist with ISAS, also in the press statement.

“And in re-examining the beaded burial, we discovered that the central burial included females. This was unexpected.”

Working independently, physical anthropologists analyzed all of the skeletal remains from the Beaded Burial, with a focus on sex-related traits in the pelvis, thigh, and cranium.

Each of the researchers determined that the two people at the center of the Beaded Burial consisted not of two men, but of a man and a woman.

Likewise, the bundle of unarticulated bones were those of both a male and female, and the team even discovered remains that had never been reported before, those a child between the ages of 3 and 6, alongside another female.

All told, the researchers accounted for the remains of 12 people, not six, and at least four of them were female.

[Read about a similar recent discovery among the victims of human sacrifice: “Infamous Mass Grave of Young Women in Ancient City of Cahokia Also Holds Men: Study“]

This discovery calls into question the idea that Cahokia was a warrior-led patriarchy, Emerson said.

“The fact that these high-status burials included women changes the meaning of the beaded burial feature,” he said.

“Now, we realize, we don’t have a system in which males are these dominant figures and females are playing bit parts.

cahokia-beaded-burial diagram
A diagram of the mass grave that includes the Beaded Burial shows the newly found number and sex of those buried there. (Graphic by Julie McMahon)

“And so, what we have at Cahokia is very much a nobility. It’s not a male nobility. It’s males and females, and their relationships are very important.”

The earlier misinterpretation of the burial is an example of an “upstream approach” to anthropology, Emerson said, in which observers try to reconstruct ancient societies based on what they see in more recent ones.

In this case, he said, the prevalence of falcon-warrior symbolism in historic Native American groups, especially in the South, led archaeologists to see those symbols in Mound 72.

Indeed, while Fowler and his colleagues thought the arrangement of beads looked like a bird’s head, Emerson’s team notes, “the intentionality of this image is questionable.”

“People who saw the warrior symbolism in the beaded burial were actually looking at societies hundreds of years later in the southeast, where warrior symbolism dominated, and projecting it back to Cahokia and saying: ‘Well, that’s what this must be,’” Emerson said.

“And we’re saying: ‘No, it’s not.’”

In fact, the team says the new evidence supports a completely different interpretation of the Beaded Burial, and the worldview that it symbolized.

Rather than being based on male-dominated warfare, they suggest that the key motifs of the burial, and Cahokian cosmology, may have to do with agriculture.

Much of the imagery found in figurines and pottery from this period, Emerson noted, is of females, and the images relate not to war but to fertility.

“For me, having dug temples at Cahokia and analyzed a lot of that material, the symbolism is all about life renewal, fertility, agriculture,” he said.

“Most of the stone figurines found there are female,” he added.

“The symbols showing up on the pots have to do with water and the underworld.

“And so now Mound 72 fits into a more consistent story with what we know about the rest of the symbolism and religion at Cahokia.”

The findings of Emerson’s team are likely to spur debate and re-investigation among scientists who study America’s largest prehistoric city.

But the team points out that its findings don’t suggest that the ancient city was not a hierarchy. What they show is that Cahokia’s hierarchy was not dominated by men.

“Really, the division here is not gender; it’s class,” Emerson said.

Emerson and his colleagues report their findings in the journal American Antiquity.

Article courtesy of Western Digs.
Emerson, T., Hedman, K., Hargrave, E., Cobb, D., & Thompson, A. (2016). Paradigms Lost: Reconfiguring Cahokia’s Mound 72 Beaded Burial American Antiquity, 81 (3), 405-425 DOI: 10.7183/0002-7316.81.3.405

Linda T. from Shannon, IL Wins Quilt!

Linda T. from Shannon, IL won the raffle for the Cahokia Mounds T-Shirt Quilt.  Congratulations to Linda who traveled from the northern edge of Illinois to Cahokia Mounds to visit the site!  We appreciate your support!

Archaeology Day August 6

We had a great Archaeology Day on Saturday!  Over 3200 people came out and learned about the preservation and interpretation of Cahokia Mounds!  The weather was perfect for this event.   The excavations at E. Palisade, Mound 34, and the Copper Workshop were all open and available for tours and viewing.  There were demonstrations on ancient crafts like flintknapping and bow-making.  Professionals were here to explain faunal remains and animal skin identification, and you could learn how to throw a spear using an atlatl or play the waging game Chunkey.  Visitors could wash ancient artifacts and sift soil excavated from the dig.  Thanks to all who made this day such a great success!!

New Presentations Added to Conference

The Mississippian Conference, held in the auditorium on July 30 from 8:30 – 4:00, is now full.  There will be 18 presentations and several poster presentations that focus on recent research relating to Mississippian culture or Cahokia Mounds.

Newly added presenters include:

James Brown, Northwestern University, Emeritus, Archaeological Fact and Fiction about the Osage

Duane Esarey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Untangling the Piasa’s Tale: A revision of Payiihsa Symbolism

Russell Weisman, Missouri Department of Transportation, The Redhorn Panel at Picture Cave:  A Solar Eclipse Allegory

Scott Hipskind and Jeremy Wilson, University of Indiana-Purdue University – Indianapolis, The Walsh Site and the Central Illinois River Valley:  A Century of Speculation on Mississippian Occupation Tested by Geophysical Prospection

Bob Dymek and John Kelly, Washington University, On the Source of Basaltic Materials Found in the Cahokia Region

John Kelly, Washington University, Corin Pursell, Washington University, Grant Stauffer, Washington University, and Imma Valese, University of Bologna,  Contextualizing the Ongoing Excavations at Cahokia:  2015-2016



PokemonGo is here! Find your Pokestops, and watch facebook for Lure times!

Pokémon are here at Cahokia Mounds!   We have stops all over the site and six gyms!  Watch our facebook page for times we set Lures out.

Mississippian Conference 2016

John Kelly has been added to the lineup of presenters with his presentation Contextualizing the Ongoing Excavations at Cahokia 2015-2016. 

Groupon Offer

We offer a great Groupon offer to visit Cahokia Mounds!  There are two offers; one is for 2 iPod tours plus a souvenir guide book and tote for $10, and the other is for 4 iPod tours plus souvenir guide book and tote for $13.  These offers are transferable, and we will honor them after the expiration date.   We have sold over 1300 of these offers and have a 94% positive feedback rating on the offer.  Simply go to and search for ‘Cahokia Mounds’ to get yours!  It’s a great way to experience the site and includes outdoor audio tours to augment the Interpretive Center Gallery.

“get to know m.e.” Bench

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site receives “Get to know m.e.” bench.

Created by the 2015 “Get to know m.e.” campaign, the regional image campaign that celebrates why people love living and working in the Metro-East.  Thirty-nine blue steel benches were donated to area public places complimentary of the campaign.  Parks, town squares, historical sites, bike trails, and scenic views are now locations of the Metro-East celebratory benches.

Exhibit Project Wins National Award

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) has awarded Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site with an Award of Merit for Wetlands and Waterways: The Key to Cahokia.  This Leadership in History Award, now in its 71st year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.   This year, AASLH is proud to confer sixty-three national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, and publications that represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history.   The Wetlands and Waterways exhibit project is a 52-foot, life-sized diorama exhibit that depicts the importance of the extensive waterways and natural resources to the growth and success of the culture that lived here from about AD 1000 – AD 1350.  It features a 21-foot, 700-year old dugout canoe and an accompaniment book.


Wetlands Exhibit pic

New Cahokia Mounds Exhibit Features 700-Year-Old Canoe

A 700-year-old canoe discovered on a sandbar in Arkansas and painstakingly restored at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the centerpiece of a new permanent exhibit opening Sunday at the site.

“Wetlands and Waterways: the Key to Cahokia” focuses on life along the rivers and wetlands of the Mississippi Valley that gave rise to Cahokia Mounds, America’s first city.

It includes a 52-foot-long mural depicting a backwater lake, river bluffs, forests and fields typical of the American Bottom floodplain. The mural serves as a backdrop to a life-size diorama showing a woman harvesting squash, other native crops, a lake and a man and a boy loading their canoe for trading with a nearby village.

The dugout canoe is in its own case. Made of bald cypress between 600 and 700 years ago, it was found on a sandbar in the St. Francis River in Arkansas after a flood. The Illinois State Archaeological Society bought the canoe and donated it to Cahokia Mounds. It was submerged in a chemical solution for three years to help preserve it and was allowed to dry out for another two years.

Tool marks and charring from the manufacturing process are visible on its surfaces.

Visitors can get a preview of the exhibit at a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center. It includes desserts, refreshments and entertainment, as well authors Lori Belknap and Molly Wawrzyniak signing copies of the exhibit’s companion book. Admission to the reception is $20; free for members of the Museum Society. Tickets can be purchased in the museum gift shop or by calling 618-344-7316.

The site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.

Article Courtesy Belleville News Democrat

Anthropology Alumnus Tracks Cahokian Pottery

A few days after crossing the stage at spring commencement, University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate Tony Farace climbs a long staircase to the top of Monks Mound near Collinsville, Ill. Once the sacred hub of a Native American empire, the vast earthwork remains at the center of efforts to understand the region’s ancient residents.

“We’re lucky to be up here,” the UMSL anthropology alumnus says of the mound, constructed roughly a millennium ago. “At that time, it was probably just the chief and maybe his closest advisors.”

The grounds of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, dotted with more than 120 mounds dating from about 900 to 1400 A.D., are familiar yet still mysterious to Farace. Cahokia’s clues to the past have been a focus of his research since transferring to UMSL from St. Charles Community College three years ago and switching his major to anthropology.

Monks Mound

“There’s a lot more potential in Cahokia and the surrounding area,” Farace says. “The scientific aspect has been a really interesting thing. Archeology really encompasses a lot of different fields into it. There’s a lot of chemical analysis, carbon dating – you can also look at pottery.”

His latest inquiry does just that, exploring Cahokia’s influence on pottery west of the Mississippi River. The research earned him a first-place poster presentation award at UMSL’s annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on May 1.

“The focus of my recent project was pottery from six sites that go up the Missouri River,” Farace says. “I looked at the temper, finishing surfaces and also the slips that are in Cahokian pottery, and I related them to those six sites across the Mississippi.

“Pottery in the Mississippian era is about style and technique,” he adds. “The temper is what they used to help fire the clay and help it keep its shape, and they would also use slip, which is clay mixed in water, and they would add colors to it, like red or black. They would use different finishing techniques – some people around here used a smooth finishing technique, and others would use a cord-marking technique.”

In addition to stylistic hints about where and what the people of Cahokia were trading hundreds of years ago, studying the pieces of pottery provides a sense of what these early inhabitants were eating and carrying.

“You can take a sample of the inside to look at different isotopes of either nitrogen or carbon,” Farace says. “These isotopes can show you what kind of animal proteins or plant remains were in the pots.”

Ancient pottery shard

Farace’s own study confirmed his hypothesis that the closer the proximity of an early Mississippian pottery artifact to Cahokia Mounds, the stronger the stylistic influences.

“There aren’t that many sites excavated in Missouri, so the six sites are a small view of an even smaller view,” Farace says. “It’s not really been done before, and the results aren’t perfect, but hopefully they’re a good base for anyone who wants to go on later and do more.”

This fall, Farace will continue his education as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University – and probably his research on the pottery of Cahokia, too. He compares what he plans to investigate with what other archeologists have learned from studying lithics, such as arrowheads.

“They can look at these different arrowheads and pinpoint who actually made them, because the technique is so distinctive,” Farace says. “So I’m hoping to try to do that with pottery: look at different styles and see where they originate and also just compare the region overall, trying to see where they traded and what economic changes they had.”

During his time as a UMSL anthropology student, Farace has worked on several excavation sites throughout the region, ranging from St. Charles, Mo., to East St. Louis, Ill. Last fall, he completed an internship with the Illinois State Archaeological Society, and this summer he is a teaching assistant at a UMSL field school in Excelsior Springs, Mo.

“We teach students to first survey an area without digging and then how to dig and excavate, how to do leveling and just how systematic it is,” he says.

Standing atop Monks Mound, Farace remarks on the impressive view, adding offhand that evidence suggest the chief’s house was struck by lightning. Then he points at an area on the lower terrace of the mound, describing it as similar to a court or civic center.

“They used to play ‘chunkey,’” he says. “They had these stones, round on the side and flat in the middle, and they would have one person roll it on the ground. Then people would try to land spears where the chunkey landed. It was kind of an ancient form of curling.”

Many questions remain, including why the early urban residents of the region eventually left.

“There’s a few theories, but one just came out a little bit ago that sounds more probable than the rest,” Farace says. “There’s new evidence of a flood that might’ve taken out this area around 1200 A.D. It would have just flooded this whole area – not a lot, but enough that you couldn’t live here.”

Centuries-Old Canoe’s Journey Continues at Cahokia Mounds

Seven hundred years is a long time for a canoe to travel.

Since it was made and used by Native Americans along the St. Francis River, the 22-1/2 foot long Bald Cypress canoe has been submerged in sandbars, re-discovered by fishermen and submerged again in a preservative solution at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville.

Now, after three years bathing in polyethylene glycol, Borax and other chemicals, the canoe is moving on to the next part of its journey.

For Gene Stratmann, the site technician who taught himself how to preserve the artifact, the canoe “is probably the highlight of our career.”

According to Bill Iseminger, assistant site manager at Cahokia, there are only about 100 Native American wooden canoes to be found nationally, and few, if any, as old as the one now resting at Cahokia Mounds.

“The preservation is very good,” Stratmann noted during a recent interview as he stood next to the canoe, pointing to tool marks and thin lines of wood grain.

The state historic site acquired the canoe for about $6,000 in 2009 after fishermen casting along recently flooded parts of the St. Francis River noticed “a different-looking log” buried in a sandbar. The men unearthed the canoe.

“Fortunately, they kept it moist,” Iseminger noted. Wood as old as that found in the canoe can rapidly dry out and decompose when taken out of the water.

After the men failed to find an Arkansas museum to buy the piece, Cahokia Mounds stepped in and brought it to Illinois, helped by representatives from the Illinois State Archaeological Society.

The canoe dates to the 1300s, the period when Cahokia itself was entering the last years of its Golden Age and when Mississippian culture stretched throughout the Midwest and near South.

Stratmann, who is certified in auto body repair and is the site’s “all-around handy man,” according to Iseminger, took the lead in preserving the piece. Stratmann has made replicas of Native American tools and canoes. Preserving one was something brand new to learn.

At first, that meant putting in phone calls. The site contacted other museums with ancient boats to ask about preservation methods. The task of preserving the canoe is a first-of-its-kind for the Collinsville site.

“It’s all new,” Stratmann said.

After learning the preservation method, Stratmann and site staff constructed a tank and frame to hold the canoe and the hundreds of gallons of preservative chemicals. The project took nine barrels of polyethylene glycol, at a cost of around $600 a barrel.

With the solution drained and the canoe raised out of the tank, it will dry for a year and staff will clean residue from the preservatives off the surface with tools as simple as a soft-bristle toothbrush.

The canoe would have been used for fishing, Iseminger theorized, and was both dug out using tools and burned out, he and Stratmann believe. The exact methods used to build such canoes are a matter of debate.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know all their technologies,” Stratmann explained. He can pick out gouges in the canoe and the burn marks on its prow. Although the canoe’s prow is sheared off, the rest of the canoe is solid.

“The preservation is really good. I always joke we should look so good in 700 years,” Stratmann said.

Iseminger agreed.

“We’ll probably have a few cracks,” he quipped.


Article Courtesy Amelia Flood