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Just Exploring Cahokia Mounds

I lived within 30 minutes of an UNESCO World Heritage site for about four years and never visited it.

Cahokia Mounds was the largest pre-historic community north of central Mexico.
From 900 to 1200 A.D., it was the center of Mississippian Indian culture. Twenty thousand people lived within roughly six square miles, in which they built about 120 mounds. Today, the site is half that size and is dominated by Monks Mound, the largest man-made earthen structure in North America. Man-made as in people carried ten stories worth of dirt in woven baskets to build it. 

Monks Mound in the distance

We finally visited over the holidays (my in-laws live in Southern Illinois). When we pulled into the parking lot, the first mounds I saw resembled golf course hills. But Monks Mound loomed above the parking lot, and getting up the stairs winded me.

Looking down the staircase up Monks Mound.

Despite the interpretive center's recreations of Native American life at Cahokia Mounds, I had difficulty envisioning it. Perhaps it was the main road running through the middle of the site, separating the museum from the largest mound. Maybe it was seeing the highway, a landfill, and St. Louis from the top of Monks Mound. The exhibits at the museum are text-heavy, and the main thing I remember from all that reading is the inhabitants of Cahokia played a game called chunkey. This involved rolling a disc and throwing spears where they thought the disc would stop. 

I'm glad we finally visited -- this is why I now keep a list of places to visit near my own home. I live near another UNESCO site now, Mammoth Cave, and I have yet to see it. But it's on the list.