Mysteries of the City of the Sun
of the wonders of ancient civilization, and chances are that images of
Egyptian pyramids or Greek temples come to mind--not a long-lost
metropolis beside the Mississippi River near what is now the city of St.
Long before Europeans first
set foot in North America, Cahokia, the City of the Sun, reigned as the
continent's largest and most culturally complex city for hundreds of years.
At its peak, between 1100 and 1200 A.D., the city covered about six square
miles and had some 20,000 inhabitants. Houses
with thatched roofs were arranged in neat rows around public plazas. Cahokia's
residents had to deal with crime, sewage disposal, and other problems
that face today's city dwellers. Gigantic earthen mounds, many with temples
on their peaks, were found throughout the city. The construction of these
mounds--including Monks Mound,
the biggest earthen structure in North America--took years of hard labor
by members of a society that had a well defined social structure.
that Corn Built
could say that Cahokia was built on corn--the main staple of the diet
of those who lived in the ancient city. Throughout history in all parts
of the world, cultures that have been dependent on hunting and gathering
have not developed large cities and societies with members having specialized
jobs or social roles--including that of the artist who created the sculpture
from Cahokia at right. These developments have only occurred in places
where people learned to grow crops or domesticate animals. Today's dominant
civilizations all have grown from early agricultural societies with many
similarities to the one that flourished in Cahokia.
No one knows for sure why Cahokia's reign as the most magnificent
city in ancient North America eventually ended. To explore some of the
ideas that archaeologiests are considering as possible causes for Cahokia's
decline--and to learn more about this fascinating city--you can explore
State Historic site web site (the source of the images on this page).
FOR THOUGHT QUESTIONS:
1. Why do you think that cities and more complex social
structures tend to develop in agricultural societies and not in hunting
and gathering societies?
2. Why do you think the
banks of the Mississippi and other rivers are often sites for Native
American burial and ceremonial mounds such as those found at Cahokia?
to the Rivers Through Time Resources Page