Monks Mound

Monks Mound is the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas and the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica. The beginning of its construction dates from 900-955 CE. Located at the Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site near Collinsville, Illinois, the mound size was calculated in 1988 as about 100 feet (30 m) high, 955 feet (291 m) long including the access ramp at the southern end, and 775 feet (236 m) wide.[1] This makes Monks Mound roughly the same size at its base as the Great Pyramid of Giza (13.1 acres / 5.3 hectares). The perimeter of its base is larger than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. As a platform mound, the earthwork supported a wooden structure on the summit.

Unlike Egyptian pyramids which were built of stone, the platform mound was constructed almost entirely of layers of basket-transported soil and clay. Because of this construction and its flattened top, over the years, it has retained rainwater within the structure. This has caused slumping, the avalanche-like sliding of large sections of the sides at the highest part of the mound. Its designed dimensions would have been significantly smaller than its present extent, but recent excavations have revealed that slumping was a problem even while the mound was being made.[2]

Monks Mound
Monks Mound in July
Monks Mound in summer. The concrete staircase follows the approximate course of the ancient wooden stairs
Monks Mound is located in Illinois
Monks Mound
Location within Illinois today
LocationCollinsville, IllinoisMadison County, IllinoisUnited States
RegionMadison County, Illinois
Coordinates38°39′38.4″N 90°3′43.36″W / 38.660667°N 90.0620444°W
Founded900–950 CE
CulturesMississippian culture
Site notes
ArchaeologistsThomas I. Ramey
Architectural stylesPlatform mound
Responsible body: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Construction and abandonment

Cahokia monks mound HRoe 2008
Monks Mound from the side showing the 2 terraces.

Construction of Monks Mound by the Mississippian culture began about 900–950 CE, on a site that had already been occupied by buildings. The original concept seems to have been a much smaller mound, now buried deep within the northern end of the present structure. At the northern end of the summit plateau, as finally completed around 1100 CE, is an area raised slightly higher still, on which was placed a building over 100 ft (30 m) long, the largest in the entire Cahokia Mounds urban zone. Deep excavations in 2007 confirmed findings from earlier test borings, that several types of earth and clay from different sources had been used successively.[2] Study of various sites suggests that the stability of the mound was improved by the incorporation of bulwarks, some made of clay, others of sods from the Mississippi flood-plain, which permitted steeper slopes than the use of earth alone.[3] The structure rises in four terraces to a height of 100 feet (30 m) with a rectangular base covering nearly 15 acres (6.1 ha) and containing 22 million cubic feet of adobe, carried basket by basket to the site.[4]

The most recent section of the mound, added some time before 1200 CE, is the lower terrace at the south end, which was added after the northern end had reached its full height. It may partly have been intended to help minimize the slumping which by then was already under way. Today, the western half of the summit plateau is significantly lower than the eastern; this is the result of massive slumping, beginning about 1200 CE.[5] This also caused the west end of the big building to collapse. It may have led to the abandonment of the mound's high status, following which various wooden buildings were erected on the south terrace, and garbage was dumped at the foot of the mound. By about 1300, the urban society at Cahokia Mounds was in serious decline. When the eastern side of the mound started to suffer serious slumping, it was not repaired.[6]

European settlers

There is no evidence of significant Native American settlement in the Cahokia Mounds urban area for hundreds of years after about 1400 CE. In 1735, French missionaries built a chapel at the west end of the south terrace of the mound. The River L'Abbe Mission served a small Illiniwek community, until they were forced to abandon the area by rival tribes about 1752. In 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, a trading post called the Cantine was established next to the mound (by then known as the Great Nobb). It lasted only until 1784.

In the early 19th century, the land was claimed by people of French descent, and Nicholas Jarrot had a deed for most of it. He donated some to a small group of French Trappist monks, who settled on one of the smaller mounds from 1809. They took advantage of the big mound's terraces to grow produce, which was elevated above the danger of flooding: wheat on the upper levels, garden produce on the south terrace. During their short stay in the area, which lasted until 1813, Henry Brackenridge visited the site and published the first detailed description of the largest mound. He named it Monks Mound.

In 1831 T. Amos Hill bought the plot including the Mound. He built a house on the upper terrace, and sank a well. This work revealed various archaeological remains, including human bones.[7]


Looking over the Cahokia Mounds site from the top of Monks Mound

Thomas I. Ramey, who bought the site in 1864, began an era of more responsible ownership, and encouraged archaeological investigation. Many artifacts were found at or near the surface. Ramey had a tunnel made nearly 30 m (98 ft) into the north face of the mound, but it revealed nothing of historic interest. By this time, people were beginning to consider the mound more within its context. A survey made for local dentist Dr. John R. Patrick in the 1880s marked the beginning of modern understanding of the Cahokia site as a whole, and its relationship to other sites in the area.[7]

Many archaeological investigations of the mound have taken place since then. One of the biggest began in the 1960s, when Nelson Reed, a local businessman and historian of native cultures, obtained permission to conduct excavations. He was trying to locate the high-status building (temple or palace) presumed to have stood at the peak of Monks Mound. By drilling cores at various points on the mound, his team revealed the various stages of its construction from the 10th to 12th centuries CE. Remains of a fairly recent house (presumably Hill's) were found, but no temple.

In 1970 Reed returned to work at the mound, and adopted a new strategy: scraping away the topsoil from several 5 m2 (54 sq ft) patches with a backhoe, to a depth of around 60 cm (24 in). This quickly revealed various features, including what appeared to be the outline of the temple. Further backhoe work in 1971 confirmed the shape of the presumed temple at over 30 m (98 ft) long, the largest building found at Cahokia. This technique was opposed by professional archaeologists because it destroyed several hundred years of stratification over most of the mound's summit, which was the evidence by which they could place and evaluate artifacts and construction. Reed's backhoe excavations revealed other significant features, such as a hole which seemed to have been the socket for a post about three feet (one metre) in diameter. The dramatic finds encouraged the Governor of Illinois to budget for an expansion of the Cahokia Mounds State Park.[8]


From the time the original urban society collapsed, the great mound became overgrown with trees, the roots of which helped stabilize its steep slopes. In the 20th century, researchers removed the trees in the course of work at the mound and park preparation. Reduction of groundwater levels in the Mississippi floodplain during the 1950s caused the mound to dry out, damaging the clay layers within. When heavy rainfall occurred, it caused new slumping, starting about 1956. The increasingly violent weather of recent decades has exacerbated the problem.[9] In 1984-5 there were several slumps, and the state government brought in surplus soil to make repairs to the major scar on the eastern side. A decade later, there was further slumping on the western side, so irregular that repair was impractical. Drains were installed to reduce the effects of heavy rain. It was during this process that workers discovered a mass of stone deep within the mound.

The repairs of the 1980s and 1990s were only partly successful. In 2004-5 more serious slumping episodes occurred. These demonstrated that adding new earth to repair the major slump on the east side had been a mistake. Experts decided to take a new approach. In 2007, backhoes were used to dig out the entire mass of earth from this slump and another at the northwest corner, to a level beyond the internal slippage zone. Engineers created a series of anti-slip "steps" across the exposed face before the original earth (minus the imported repair material) was replaced at its original level. To avoid introducing water deep into the mound's interior, the work was carried out in high summer, and as quickly as possible. In parallel with the repair work, teams of archaeologists studied the evidence that was being revealed.[2] The eastern sliding zone penetrated more deeply within the mound than originally estimated, and the excavation had to be very large-[10] 50 feet (16 m) wide, to a height of 65 feet (20 m) above the mound base.[2] This heightened concerns about a conflict between conservation and archaeology.

See also


  1. ^ Skele, Mike "The Great Knob", Studies in Illinois Archaeology, no. 4], Springfield, IL, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (1988) ISBN 0942579038, pp. 1-3, via
  2. ^ a b c d Iseminger, Bill et al. "Monks Mound (Mound 38) Projects 1997 - 2007 Archived 2005-01-08 at, from The Cahokian (various issues 1998-2007)- at
  3. ^ S.C. Sherwood; Tristram .R. Kidder (March 2011). "The DaVincis of Dirt". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 30 (1): 69–87. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2010.11.001.
  4. ^ Nash, Gary B. Red, White and Black: The Peoples of Early North America Los Angeles 2015. Chapter 1, p. 6
  5. ^ Rose, Mark (Jan–Feb 1999). "Sampling Monks Mound". Archaeology. 52 (1).
  6. ^ Young, Biloine W.; Fowler, Melvin L. (2000). Cahokia, the Great Native American Metropolis. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. pp. 171–2. ISBN 0-252-06821-1.
  7. ^ a b John A. Walthall & Elizabeth D. Benchley, "The River L'Abbé Mission: A French Colonial Church for the Cahokia Illini on Monks Mound", Studies in Illinois Archaeology, No. 2, Springfield, IL: Historic Preservation Agency (1987), via
  8. ^ Young & Fowler, pp. 154-7
  9. ^ Skele, p98
  10. ^ Bostrom, Peter A. Mound repair: Cahokia Mounds (31 Jul 2007)- summary with photos

Further reading

External links

1st millennium

The first millennium was a millennium spanning the years AD 1 to AD 1000 (1st to 10th centuries; in astronomy: JD 1721425.5 – 2086667.5).

World population rose more slowly than during the preceding millennium, from about 200 million in AD 1 to about 300 million in AD 1000.In Western Eurasia (Europe and Near East), the first millennium was a time of great transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages. The 1st century saw the peak of the Roman Empire, followed by its gradual decline during the period of Late Antiquity, the rise of Christianity and the Great Migrations. The second half of the millennium is characterized as the Early Middle Ages in Europe, and marked by the Viking expansion in the west, the rise of the Byzantine Empire in the east.

Islam expands rapidly from Arabia to western Asia, India, North Africa and the Iberian peninsula, culminating in the Islamic Golden Age (700–1200 AD).

In East Asia, the first millennium was also a time of great cultural advances, notably the spread of Buddhism to East Asia. In China, the Han dynasty is replaced by the Jin dynasty and later the Tang dynasty until the 10th century sees renewed fragmentation in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. In Japan, a sharp increase in population followed when farmers' use of iron tools increased their productivity and crop yields. The Yamato court was established.

In South Asia, the Indian subcontinent was divided among numerous kingdoms throughout the first millennium, until the formation of the Gupta Empire.

In Mesoamerica, the first millennium was a period of enormous growth known as the Classic Era (200–900 AD). Teotihuacan grew into a metropolis and its empire dominated Mesoamerica. In South America, pre-Incan, coastal cultures flourished, producing impressive metalwork and some of the finest pottery seen in the ancient world.

In North America, the Mississippian culture rose at the end of the millennium in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys. Numerous cities were built; Cahokia, the largest, was based in present-day Illinois. The construction of Monks Mound at Cahokia was begun in 900–950 AD.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Bantu expansion reaches Southern Africa by about the 5th century.

The Arab slave trade spans the Sahara and the Swahili coast by the 9th century.

American Bottom

The American Bottom is the flood plain of the Mississippi River in the Metro-East region of Southern Illinois, extending from Alton, Illinois, south to the Kaskaskia River. It is also sometimes called "American Bottoms". The area is about 175 square miles (450 km2), mostly protected from flooding in the 21st century by a levee and drainage canal system. Immediately across the river from St. Louis, Missouri are industrial and urban areas, but many swamps and the major Horseshoe Lake are reminders of the Bottoms' riparian nature. This plain served as the center for the pre-Columbian Cahokia Mounds civilization, and later the French settlement of Illinois Country. Deforestation of the river banks in the 19th century to fuel steamboats had dramatic environmental effects in this region. The Mississippi River between St. Louis and the confluence with the Ohio River became wider and more shallow, as unstable banks collapsed into the water. This resulted in more severe flooding and lateral changes of the major channel, causing the destruction of several French colonial towns, such as Kaskaskia, which relocated; Cahokia, and St. Philippe, Illinois.

The southern portion of the American Bottoms is primarily agricultural, planted chiefly in corn, wheat, and soybean. The American Bottom is part of the Mississippi Flyway used by migrating birds and has the greatest concentration of bird species in Illinois. The flood plain is bounded on the east by a nearly continuous, 200- to 300-foot high, 80-mile (130 km) long bluff of limestone and dolomite, above which begins the great prairie that covers most of the state. The Mississippi River bounds the Bottom on its west, and the river abuts the bluffline on the Missouri side. Portions of St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, and Randolph counties are in the American Bottom. Its maximum width is about 9 miles (14 km) in the north, and it is about 2 to 3 miles in width throughout most of its southern extent.


The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (11 MS 2) is the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city (circa 1050–1350 CE) directly across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri. This historic park lies in southern Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville. The park covers 2,200 acres (890 ha), or about 3.5 square miles (9 km2), and contains about 80 mounds, but the ancient city was much larger. In its heyday, Cahokia covered about 6 square miles (16 km2) and included about 120 manmade earthen mounds in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and functions.Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 1,000 years before European contact. Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico.

Cahokia Mounds is a National Historic Landmark and a designated site for state protection. It is also one of only 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States. The largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas north of Mexico, the site is open to the public and administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Division and supported by the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society. In celebration of the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial, the Cahokia Mounds were selected as one of the Illinois 200 Great Places by the American Institute of Architects Illinois component (AIA Illinois) and was recognized by USA Today Travel magazine, as one of AIA Illinois's selections for Illinois 25 Must See Places.

Cahokia Woodhenge

The Cahokia Woodhenge was a series of large timber circles located roughly 850 metres (2,790 ft) to the west of Monks Mound at the Mississippian culture Cahokia archaeological site near Collinsville, Illinois. They are thought to have been constructed between 900 and 1100 CE; with each one being larger and having more posts than its predecessor. The site was discovered as part of salvage archaeology in the early 1960s interstate highway construction boom and one of the circles was reconstructed in the 1980s. The circle has been used to investigate archaeoastronomy at Cahokia. Annual equinox and solstice sunrise observation events are held at the site.

Collinsville, Illinois

Collinsville is a city located mainly in Madison County, and partially in St. Clair County, both in Illinois. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 25,579, an increase from 24,707 in 2000. Collinsville is approximately 12 miles from St. Louis, Missouri and is considered part of that city's Metro-East area. It is the site of the Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, the world's largest ketchup bottle, and is the world's horseradish capital.Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site, extends beyond the boundaries of the city toward the west. This prehistoric urban complex is estimated to have had a population of thousands at its peak, long before European exploration in the area. Monks Mound, the largest man-made earthwork in North America, is part of this complex.

Earth/fertility cult

The Earth/fertility Mississippian cult was associated with earthen platform mounds.The act of rebuilding the mounds, of adding additional layers of earth over burials, served as a symbol of renewal, which renewed the earthwork as much as human life. The earthen platform served as the earth, a symbolism which endured into historic times. There are historically documented connections between additions to platforms mounds and the communal "Green Corn Ceremony", which celebrated the new harvest and the fertility of the earth. The quadrilateral, flat-topped design of many platform mounds may represent the Southeastern American Indian belief that the earth was a flat surface oriented towards four quarters of the world.

Emerald Mound and Village Site

The Emerald Mound and Village Site (Emerald Site) is a pre-Columbian archaeological site located northwest of the junction of Emerald Mound Grange and Midgley Neiss Roads in St. Clair County, Illinois. The site includes five mounds, two of which have been destroyed by modern activity, and the remains of a village. Middle Mississippian peoples inhabited the village, which was a satellite village of Cahokia. The largest of the mounds is a two-tiered structure that stands 50 feet (15 m) high; its square base is 300 feet (91 m) across, while its upper tier is 150 feet (46 m) across. At the time of its discovery, the mound was the second-largest known in Illinois after Monks Mound at Cahokia.The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 26, 1971.

Horseshoe Lake State Park

Horseshoe Lake State Park is an Illinois state park in Madison County, Illinois, United States. It is approximately 2,960 acres (1,198 ha) and surrounds a large horseshoe shaped lake called Horseshoe Lake. Horseshoe Lake is the second largest natural lake in Illinois taking up approximately 2,400 acres (971 ha) of the 2,960-acre (1,198 ha) park. The park has connections to Madison County Transit's Schoolhouse Trail, which connects to over 85 miles (137 km) of bike trail in Madison County, and even a trail which goes all of the way to downtown St. Louis after crossing the Mississippi River on the Chain of Rocks Bridge. The park is located in southeastern Granite City, Illinois, just a 10-mile (16 km) drive northeast of downtown St. Louis.

Julice Mound

Julice Mound is an archaeological site in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana with a Plaquemine culture component dating to 1200–1541 CE and located less than one mile from Transylvania Mounds.

Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site

The Kincaid Mounds Historic Site (11MX2-11; 11PO2-10) c. 1050–1400 CE, is the site of a city from the prehistoric Mississippian culture. One of the largest settlements of the Mississippian culture, it was located at the southern tip of present-day U.S. state of Illinois. Kincaid Mounds has been notable for both its significant role in native North American prehistory and for the central role the site has played in the development of modern archaeological techniques. The site had at least 11 substructure platform mounds (ranking fifth for mound-culture pyramids). Artifacts from the settlement link its major habitation and the construction of the mounds to the Mississippian period, but it was also occupied earlier during the Woodland period.

Larson Site

The Larson Site is a prehistoric archaeological site in Fulton County, Illinois, near the city of Lewistown. The site was the location of a Mississippian town and was occupied during the 13th and 14th centuries. The town was one of seven major town sites in the central Illinois River valley and served as a social and economic center for surrounding villages and farms. The artifacts uncovered at the site have been well-preserved and include both organic remains and intact homes, providing significant archaeological evidence regarding the Mississippian way of life.The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 21, 1978.

Monks (disambiguation)

Monks is the plural of monk, a religious ascetic.

Monks may also refer to:


Monks Bay, Isle of Wight, England

Monks Brook, Hampshire, England

Monks Mound, the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in America north of Mesoamerica

Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire, EnglandOther uses:

Monks (surname), a list of people

The Monks, a 1960s rock band

The Monks (UK band), a 1970s punk band

Monks Investment Trust, incorporated in 1929 in Edinburgh, Scotland

Monks (Oliver Twist), a character in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist

Mound 34

Mound 34 is a small platform mound located roughly 400 metres (1,300 ft) to the east of Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Illinois. Excavations near Mound 34 from 2002–2010 revealed the remains of a copper workshop, although the one of a kind discovery had been previously found in the late 1950s by archaeologist Gregory Perino, but lost for 60 years. It is so far the only remains of a copper workshop found at a Mississippian culture archaeological site.

Mound 72

Mound 72 is a small ridgetop mound located roughly 850 meters (2,790 ft) to the south of Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Illinois. Early in the site's history, the location began as a circle of 48 large wooden posts known as a "woodhenge". The woodhenge was later dismantled and a series of mortuary houses, platform mounds, mass burials and eventually the ridgetop mound erected in its place. The mound was the location of the "beaded burial", an elaborate burial of an elite personage thought to have been one of the rulers of Cahokia, accompanied by the graves of several hundred retainers and sacrificial victims.

Owl Creek Mounds

The Owl Creek Mounds are a Native American Ceremonial Complex located in Mississippi's Tombigbee National Forest. The mounds are believed to have been built between 800 and 900 years ago during the Mississippian era. Archaeological excavations from 1991-1992 by crews from Mississippi State University led by Janet Rafferty revealed structural remains on three of the mounds at the site.

Platform mound

A platform mound is any earthwork or mound intended to support a structure or activity.

Routh Mounds

Routh Mounds is a Plaquemine culture archaeological site in Tensas Parish, Louisiana. It is the type site for the Routh Phase(1200 to 1350 CE) of the Tensas Basin Plaquemine Mississippian chronology. It is located approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of the Winter Quarters State Historic Site.

Sacred bundle

A sacred bundle or a medicine bundle is a wrapped collection of sacred items, held by a designated carrier, used in Indigenous American ceremonial cultures.

According to Patricia Deveraux, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, "These are holy bundles given to us by the Creator to hold our people together... They're the same as the relics from the Catholic Church. They are a demonstration of the holy spirit. They can heal people."

Sleeth Site

The Sleeth Site is an archaeological site located near Liverpool in Fulton County, Illinois. The side encompasses a 10-acre (4.0 ha) village area including a sizable midden. The site was occupied by people of the Spoon River Culture, a local culture within the Middle Mississippian culture; it is the only known site within the Sleeth Phase of the culture and has been dated to 1500 A.D. Cultural artifacts recovered from the site include a large number of projectile points and pottery shards from jars, plates, and bowls.The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1979.

South Appalachian
Fort Walton culture
Pensacola culture
Upper Mississippian

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