Ozark Road Trip Part 2

The Cahokia Mounds

I first read about Cahokia in the book 1491 by Charles Mann (totally worth reading).  I was fascinated to discover that North America’s most advanced civilization was located right outside what is now Saint Louis.  The book details how the ancient Mississippians may have altered the flow of the rivers to better irrigate their agriculture, a stunning achievement for the time.  For unknown reasons the tribe built giant mounds, a project that spanned multiple generations, having had no iron tools or wheels.

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Thousands of years ago, these mounds would have been populated with about 20,000 Native Americans.

The museum was interesting, but I was surprised to find that it was historically inaccurate on some points – such as saying that maize wasn’t a nutritionally sufficient diet for the natives (also discussed in 1491).  But all in all it was fascinating and educational – I couldn’t believe I’d been to Saint Louis so many times before and never knew it was there.  Ozark 324

“Anyone who traveled up the Mississippi in AD 1100  would have seen it looming in the distance: a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza… Canoes flitted like hummingbirds across its waterfront: traders bringing copper and mother-of-pearl from faraway places; hunting parties bringing rare treats such as buffalo and elk; emissaries and soldiers in long vessels bristling with weaponry…” – Charles Mann, 1491

Hectors Ozark photos 084“The Mississippi and Ohio valleys and much of the US Southeast were home to what is known as the Eastern Agricultural Complex.  A full-fledged agricultural revolution with a multifarious suite of crops, the complex is an example of a major cultural innovation that has completely disappeared.  Its crops were such unfamiliar plants as marshelder, knotweed, maygrass, and little barley.  All of these species still exist… farmers today treat several as weeds.”  – Charles Mann, 1491

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“In the context of the village, the mound, visible everywhere, was as much a beacon as a medieval cathedral.” – Charles Mann, 1491

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Beyond the mounds and museum, there was a nice hiking trail through fields of beautiful wildflowers.  Cahokia is a must-see for anyone who’s ever been interested in this country’s history.


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Continue to Ozark Road Trip Part 3 ->

Part 1
Part 4 (Scrapbook)

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