Cahokia

The Great Hopewell Road is many centuries older than another, more famous, great road: the Great North Road built by the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon, which we discuss in Chapter 7. Before leaving the Hopewell cultures, we must discuss Cahokia, Illinois, the capital of Mississippi during 800 to 1300 AD (with at least 20,000 residents). Cahokia was built according to specific urban planning regulations. The city plan is in the shape of a diamond with one diagonal laid on the north-south axis. This axis is also a scenographic direction along which the two main mounds of the city— Pottery Mound and Monks' Mound—are laid; there are a total of 120 mounds. Pottery Mound, oriented toward the winter solstice, was built for funerary purposes. It is basically a 63-meter-long platform where, when excavated, many objects and the remains of hundreds of people, probably sacrificed to honor the two main personages, perhaps chiefs, were found buried. In contrast, Monks' Mound (the name refers to a convent of Trappist monks who lived in the area in 1800) is a huge artificial hill, 30 meters tall, 316 meters long, and 241 meters high. Given the volume of the material that was moved—700,000 cubic meters, which is about a third of the volume of the Great Pyramid—it is the largest structure ever built in the United States (including all modern buildings), and one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The purpose of this building is still unknown. On its top there was a large wooden building, possibly a temple. We can assume that building this huge structure took many decades or even centuries, and was done in various stages. What is certain is that, just like Silbury Hill, Monks' Mound is not a simple bank of amassed earth, which would not have survived erosion so well. According to Woods et al. (1998), who studied the various building stages, the hill was built using techniques that allowed draining the water through various layers of clay and by using buttresses to improve stability. Moreover, some years ago, stone foundations were found in Monks' Mound,

Bedford Indiana Easter Island
Figure 6.8: Monk's Mound at Cahokia

and we still do not know their size. The discovery is surprising because in that area stone is not an available building material and it must have come from far away.

Another intriguing discovery in Cahokia was made by archaeologist Warren Wittry in I960. His group was investigating the site to make sure that building a road some 900 meters away from Monks' Mound would not result in a loss of archaeological layers. At a certain point, they noticed many large holes dug in the stone and laid out in circular arches. Such holes were obviously a support for some large wooden poles, and therefore the analogy with Woodhenge became inevitable (Wittry 1964). "America's Woodhenge'' is composed of four circles of holes drilled in the period between 800 and 1100 AD, and it has been claimed that the holes, especially those of the circle No. 2, were used to measure the motion of the rising sun at the eastern horizon. However, the evidence of an astronomical use is not conclusive. What is certain is that the view from the site at the equinox would have been extremely impressive, with the sun rising behind the huge mass of Monks' Mound.

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