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CAHOKIA MOUNDS STATE PARK, 3 miles N.E. of East St. Louis on U.S. 40. (Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Archeologists consider the Cahokia Mounds to be the most important remnant of prehistoric culture in America. For many years the 85 mounds were the cause of much local controversy as to whether they were of natural or artificial origin. Preliminary explorations by amateur archeologists indicated they were erected by human hands and in 1922 an expedition headed by Prof. W. K. Moorehead, of the University of Illinois, made an extensive excavation that proved to the layman that they were the work of men.

Who the mound builders were and just when they flourished is not definitely known. Although their culture, as evidenced by their handiwork and burial customs, differs markedly from that of the Indians who once inhabited this area, the mound builders were probably the immediate ancestors of the Indians. Judging by the erosion that has furrowed the mounds, Moorehead places the date of their erection between 1200 and 1500 A.D.

The vari-colored earths of which the mounds are composed proves that they were probably constructed by heaping basketful on basketful of earth. This theory is strengthened by the finding of lumps of earth still bearing the imprint of a wicker basket. It has been estimated that Monks’ Mound alone represents more than two years’ labor for 2,000 men working in this manner.

Why the mound builders constructed these artificial hills is a subject of speculation among archeologists. One of the first theories advanced was that they were erected to protect the tribe from seasonal floods. But considering that the mounds are located only a mile or two from high bluffs, and allowing that the river once flowed nearer the mounds, this theory seems rather improbable. Further research by Professor Moorehead has revealed that they were once the center of a vast village site, running 7 or 8 miles along Cahokia Creek. It is likely that they had a religious significance and were used, secondarily, for the residence of tribal officers and as the bases for altars and temples.

Recent investigations by an amateur archeologist, G. A. R. Benedict, indicate that the location and the shape of the huge Monks’ Mound were determined by mathematical and astronomical means. According to Mr. Benedict the angle of the northern slope of Monks’ Mound had a direct relation to the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. "Neither is the northern slope of the Temple Mound," Mr. Benedict continues, "immediately southwest of Monks’ Mound, by a matter of chance. Restore it to its original angle, but a few degrees steeper than it is now, and it, too, will mark the ending of one season and the beginning of the next to a hairline."

Archeologists have estimated that there were once more than 300 mounds within a 7-mile radius of Monks’ Mound. Many of the mounds, however, have been obliterated by railroad and highway construction, agricultural operations, and the extensive growth of East St. Louis.

In 1925, the State of Illinois, acting on the request of numerous archeological societies, acquired 144 acres containing the principal mounds and designated the tract as Cahokia Mound State Park.

On reaching Cahokia Mound State Park it is suggested that the tourist turn left from the four-lane highway on to the road leading to the small MUSEUM of Aztec architecture, which contains a large collection of axes, pipes, arrowheads, pottery, and other artifacts that have been unearthed in nearby mounds.

Immediately behind the museum looms MONKS’ MOUND, largest prehistoric earthwork in the United States. The mound is 104 feet high, 710 feet wide, and 1,000 feet long. Four distinct terraces indent its pyramidical bulk. It derives its name from a colony of Trappist monks who resided on it from 1805 to 1810, when a plague killed off four of their members and the remainder returned east and eventually to France. A monastery that they built into the mound fell into ruin long ago, and no vestige of it remains.

Log-reinforced steps lead up to the flat summit, where benches, tables, and open fireplaces have been provided for picnickers.

Descending from Monks’ Mound, cross US 40 and follow the road directly south from the museum. Entering this half of the park, the tourist passes (L), in regular order, JAMES RAMEY’S MOUND, RED MOUND, AND FOX MOUND; and (R) TEMPLE MOUND and ROUND TOP MOUND. The gravel park road splits near the base of Round Top Mound, continuing left to POTTERY MOUND and right to TWIN MOUNDS. Between the forks of the road lies LAKE CAHOKIA, a marshy depression caused, it is believed, by the excavations of the mound builders.


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