Cahokia, America’s Great City

Larger than London or Paris in its time, what is now America’s heartland had a magnificent city between 1030 and 1200 CE. Now known as Cahokia, the city occupied the wide floodplain where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet, near present-day St. Louis.

Like traditional capital cities around the world, Cahokia displayed monumental architecture, making it an awesome theater of power. In its center was (and still is) a mound larger than the Egyptians’ pyramids at Giza, a mound nearly as huge as the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan or the Great Pyramid of Cholula, in Mexico. Its flat top towering 100 feet high covers more than a football field, its base measures 1,000 feet by 700 feet. In front stretches the Grand Plaza, which measures 1,000 feet by 1,300 feet, and is made perfectly flat by filling in gullies and layering special soil over the whole. At the far end and along the sides rise more mounds, 70 feet high. All were capped with colored clays––blue, white, or black.

Beyond the magnificent center were more plazas encircled by mounds, and beyond the city center were thousands of homes and farmsteads, as far as the eye could see on both sides of the river. Villages dotted the uplands, some with their own ritual mounds. At four points where river narrows with bluffs allowed soldiers to guard entry to the floodplain, carved thunderbirds with cross-in-circle territory signs mark in stone the state’s defended boundaries. Hidden in plain sight for centuries, today a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cahokia never was acknowledged in post-contact histories of America…

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