Let me start out by saying that if you’re not interested in history, I’m the wrong Mile Marker to read. No, I take that back. You should read me. I’d love to change your mind.
I began my Mile Marker adventure at Cahokia Mounds. It’s one of my favorite Illinois historic sites – and one of the most important. You don’t have to take my word for it. In 1982, Cahokia Mounds was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Vatican City and Notre Dame Cathedral are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Like I said, Cahokia Mounds is important.)
Monks Mound is the largest totally earthen prehistoric mound in the Western Hemisphere
From 800 to 1400 CE, Cahokia Mounds was the dominant city of the Mississippian culture, the most sophisticated prehistoric culture in the Americas north of Mexico. With no metal, no draft animals, and no written language, the Mississippians built monumental structures (Monks’ Mound is as tall as a ten-story office building), made beautiful pottery, and built giant sun calendars that accurately tracked the solstice and the equinox. At its height, around 1250 CE, Cahokia had an estimated population of 20,000 people—larger than London at the same time. The next North American city with a population that large was Philadelphia, five hundred years later.
The Woodhenge sun calendar accurately tracks the equinoxes and solstices
If you visit Cahokia Mounds on a gray afternoon with the threat of snow in the air, like we did, you might want to head straight to the exhibits in the Interpretive Center. This is not a dry, specialists-only museum. Divided into thematic sections—Time, Culture, City, Structures, Life, and Products—the kid-friendly exhibits do a terrific job telling visitors what archeologists know about the Mississippian culture and how they know it. A clever series of panels featuring two characters, the Storyteller and the Archeologist, offers commentary on the exhibits from two different viewpoints. A new video tells the story of one of the most interesting features of Cahokia: the circular wooden sun calendar known as Woodhenge. The final portion of the exhibit – Knowing – talks about Cahokia Mounds as an archeological dig.
In better weather, there is plenty to see outside, including a reconstructed Woodhenge. There are several different ways to tour the site. Volunteer docents offer guided tours on the weekends in the spring and fall and every day during the summer. If you prefer a self-guided tour, you can choose between a printed guide, and audio tours in two different formats. If you can’t schedule a visit to Cahokia Mounds when the interpretive center is open, the trails are open basically from sun up to sun down. Printed trail guides and information signs along the paths do a good job of introducing a visitor to the Mississippian culture and the mounds themselves.
No matter when you visit, something is apt to be going on. The site offers plenty of special events during the year: flint knapping workshops, Native American art shows, and solstice sunrise observations at the Woodhenge. When an active archeological dig is going on, visitors are welcome to the site.
Make a date with America’s ancient past and visit Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
*#ILMileMarkers Tip* Cahokia Mounds is located in Collinsville, Illinois, not Cahokia.
For more information about Cahokia Mounds, visit their informative website: www.cahokiamounds.org
— Pamela Toler, Illinois Mile Marker
Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth, the Collinsville Drury Inn and the Days Inn Vandalia. Want to follow in Mile Marker Pamela Toler’s footsteps? Travel the below map!
View Illinois Mile Markers: Collinsville Itinerary in a larger map
Meet the Mile Marker:
Pamela Toler History
Pamela D. Toler is not your average freelance writer. She holds a PhD in history, is notoriously curious and has a long-standing love affair with road trips. As an author, Pamela has penned multiple books as well and has been featured on the History Channel.
She loves the thrill of exploring places of historical significance that link today with times of past. She blogs about history, writing, writing about history — and the occasional road trip through history — at History in the Margins.