Sep 102015
 
Woodhenge, Cahokia

Woodhenge, Cahokia

Although, there are many who doubt that the Medicine Wheel in Bighorn Mountain, Wyoming is an astronomical calendar, 1200 miles east in the ancient metropolis of Cahokia, the “Woodhenge” structures are generally accepted as astronomical calendars.   The structures are simple, a center post surrounded by differing numbers of posts in wide circles.  The number of posts in the circumference seemed to grow in number with each rebuilding of the structures.  Here is a quote by William Iseminger, assistant site manager in charge of exhibits, interpretations and public relations at Cahokia for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, from his book “Cahokia Mounds, America’s First City”:

B - Cahokia artist rendition[It is the morning of the summer solstice] “I aligned myself with the center post and the easternmost post of the 125-meter (410 foot) diameter circle of forty-eight posts and climbed my stepladder to address the group.  I began my explanation as I have done since 1985 when we reconstructed this Woodhenge.  As the sun eventually made its appearance, it emerged from the front of Monks Mound, near the top of the front slope.  To me, this is more than coincidence, as I believe that the paramount chief was probably thought to be associated with the sun, perhaps representing the sun on earth, and to have the sun emerging from his mound would reinforce that connection and his power and authority.  He may have even stood at the front of the summit to greet his “sky brother” and show him the path to take across the sky, as was recorded by the French of the Great Sun, leader of the Natchez Indians in Mississippi during the 1700’s.”

“By any measure, [Cahokia was magnificent].  It covered over 4,000 acres, and had a population estimated between 10-20,000 within the city proper and 70,000 if you count the suburbs.  Grand temples and houses were built atop enormous platform mounds.   There were approximately 120 of these platform mounds of various sizes.  In 1250 A. D., Cahokia was comparable in size to London or Paris during the same period.  It was the largest city in the United States until 1780 when Philadelphia grew larger.  [from “The Lost City of Cahokia”, Native American Antiquity]

Pinterest Cahokia New FindingsCahokia is back in the news after scientists at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine analyzed 203 teeth from 109 bodies found in Cahokia’s Mound 72.  Again from Iseminger, “A small inconspicuous mound about seven feet (2.1 meters) high sits about a half mile (0.8 kilometers) south of the behemoth Monks Mound.  It did not appear on most of the maps made of Cahokia.  However, it turned out to be one of the most significant mounds ever excavated in North America, providing intriguing glimpses into the customs and beliefs of Mississippian peoples.”

Archaeology” magazine, August 28, 2015, reports, “Phil Slater and Kristin Hedman of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, and Andrew Thompson of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, analyzed 203 teeth from 109 bodies found in Cahokia’s Mound 72. The mound, excavated in the 1960s, contained three large pits that held human remains laid out in neat rows. Most of the dead were young women who had been killed, perhaps by strangulation or blood-letting. However, a separate deposit held the bones of 39 men and women who had suffered fractures, had been shot with points, and even decapitated, then dumped into the burial site.”

An illustration of the ritual sacrifice by strangulation of 53 of young women (aged 15 to 25) at the Mound 72 burial of an important personage, now referred to as the "Birdman" because of the falcon shaped arrangement of beads around his body.  Mound 72 is a ridgetop mound at the Cahokia Mounds Site, a large Mississippian culture mound center located in present day Madison County, Illinois.

An illustration of the ritual sacrifice by strangulation of 53 of young women (aged 15 to 25) at the Mound 72 burial of an important personage, now referred to as the “Birdman” because of the falcon shaped arrangement of beads around his body. Mound 72 is a ridgetop mound at the Cahokia Mounds Site, a large Mississippian culture mound center located in present day Madison County, Illinois.  (credit: Herb roe)

They published their findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in July, 2015 .  The abstract reads, “Mound 72 at Cahokia figures prominently into interpretations of early Mississippian sociopolitical development. A previous study utilizing dental morphology concluded that the groups of mostly young adult females interred in four mass graves in Mound 72 were likely not from Cahokia and possibly reflect sacrificial offerings from outside communities. The purpose of this study is to reevaluate these findings using multiple indicators of biological relatedness and place of origin/migration.”

Their results: “Biodistance studies indicate that individuals in the four mass graves are phenotypically similar to other groups in the region, whereas F229-lower, a burial group with an aberrant mortuary context, is phenotypically distinct. Strontium isotope analyses show that mean Sr signatures for each feature investigated fall within the established local range for Cahokia. However, the range of Sr ratios for individuals in F229-lower is very narrow, suggesting they reflect a single population from a limited geologic region.”

In an article in “Western Digs”, Slater states it more clearly, “Taken together, the data suggests that these mutilated victims were all local to the Cahokia region, but also physically different in some ways from the general population.”

Their study substantially upsets the former theory that this burial site was a collection of sacrificial tribute from outliers, but, perhaps, it was indicative of an overthrow or internal war in the city of Cahokia itself.   Cahokia was the center for a vast empire and important world trading center.  There were bound to have been many internal political power struggles and this may have been the result of one of them.

Watch “Introduction to The Lost City of Cahokia by Courtney Miller

 

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