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one of the twin mounds
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

30 Ramey Street Collinsville, IL 62234
Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday 9am-5pm. Grounds open 8am to dusk.
618-346-5160 Half day
July 2015 Summer, Fall, Spring
$0-9 Collinsville Illinois
Website Historical Historic Sites
First review
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is a 2,200 acre park which has approximately 80 mounds and earthen structures and was built around 600-1400 AD by the Mississippian peoples. It was the most important settlement in North America in its day and had approximately 40,000 residents at its peak in 1,200 AD. The historical site includes a large museum and a number of paved and dirt trails. The site is 10 miles east of St. Louis and the St. Louis skyline is visible from the highest mounds. The grounds and museum are free, but donations are requested. Guided tours are available in the summer; audio self-guided tours are available for a fee.

Although the Cahokia Mounds settlement was the largest and most influential in the region, it was one of many cities and towns in a pre-Colombian culture that ranged from the Midwest to the Great Lakes and south to the Gulf of Mexico and Georgia. These settlements traded extensively and developed many advanced practices such as agriculture, pottery, jewelry and architecture. They also practiced human sacrifice and believed in an afterlife.

The Cahokia Mounds site was much larger historically than the current park area. It was approximately 4,000 acres and had around 120 mounds. Consider also that the largest mound, Monks Mound, was built over 14 acres and was 100 feet high. Incredibly, it was built by hand and in stages by men carrying 50 pounds of dirt on their back over many years. Extensive stockades also were built around the site either for protection or for ceremonial purposes. It's not clear why but around 1,300 AD the site was abandoned. It might have been due to depletion of resources or conflicts with other people. Once abandoned the site was left mostly undisturbed until the early 1800s when settlement in the area increased. A small group of French Trappist monks established a farm on the largest mound for a few years before departing. Some archaeological excavations were done over the years, but more meaningful study and protection did not come till 1923 when a small state park was established here. The park has increased in size over the years, and a modern visitor center was built in 1989.

On the first visit the museum had just closed, but fortunately the park grounds were open till dusk, affording plenty of time to walk around and check out the place. It was a quiet and pleasant excursion except around the woods where the gnats and bugs were very bothersome. Bring some bug spray if you walk some of the backwoods trails in summer or just skip that part of the park altogether. There was limited signage around the primary mounds, but a trail map fortunately provided a good birds-eye perspective and more information about the mounds. Walking at lease some of the property is time well spent here because it provides a perspective on the extensiveness of the settlement. Coming back the next morning was even a better choice because the museum was great, very informative and with diverse displays. It's also quite large so make sure to allow plenty of time to see the exhibits; it will significantly enhance your experience. A number of displays recreate the domestic lives of the former inhabitants. There are also extensive artifacts. A short overview film is available as well. If you have time, plan to watch the film prior to seeing the displays. A one hour guided tour was offered of Monk's Mound, and it was joined for about 30 minutes but rated quite average. The docent was not especially informative or insightful. Maybe you will have better luck. Plan on going to the museum first and Monk's Mound second; everything else is of lesser importance. This site ranks high for a visit if you are interested in history. This settlement was like a combination of Washington, DC. and New York City in its society. The size and diversity of the mounds are impressive, especially given that they were constructed by hand. A visit here also will be a good choice for kids since there are cool displays in the museum which they should enjoy.
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