A lost prehistoric native civilisation – Cahokia Mounds

Cahokia Mounds was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1982.  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), designated Cahokia Mounds as a World Heritage Site for its importance to our understanding of the prehistory of North America. They ensure the site is maintained and visitors are educated about its importance.

Cahokia Mounds is located in Collinsville, Illinois off Interstates 55/70 and 255 and is just fifteen minutes east of St. Louis, Missouri.


You might never have heard about Cahokia Mounds and quite honestly, if you drove past it, you would probably think it was a perfectly shaped landfill site (apologies for offence caused) but in actual fact, it’s the site of a long lost prehistoric civilisation, the most sophisticated north of Mexico.

According to various archaeological digs on the site, it was inhabited from around A.D. 700 – A. D. 1400. At its peak, the site covered 6 Sq miles and around 20,000 people lived there.  In A.D. 1250, it was a bigger city than London was at the time. That is quite something!

What happened to the prehistoric Cahokians and their huge city is still unknown, but the decline is suspected to have been gradual, beginning around the 1200s. By A.D. 1400 the site had been abandoned and as yet, no one really knows what happened. There is talk that perhaps climate change affected their crop production or perhaps war, disease or social unrest caused the city to fall apart. Investigations continue…

The site consisted of a number of mounds varying in size, the Chief having the largest and highest, today called “Monk’s Mound”.  It is roughly 28.1 meters (92.2 feet) high. It is the LARGEST man-made earthen mound on the North American continent. Wow!

Monk’s Mound from the car park.

It is called “Monk’s Mound” because in later years, a group of Trappist monks lived on one of the nearby mounds. They never actually lived on Monk’s Mound itself but gardened on its lower terraces.  Perhaps they suspected its significance.

There have been many studies about the Cahokians based on many artefacts found.  They appeared to have a complex social and political structure – they played games, they farmed, followed certain religions, had large communal plazas, practised the odd bit of human sacrifice (okay….) and had huge public monuments. Today the road splits the site but standing on Monk’s Mound, you can clearly see the open plaza and if you scan the surrounding area, you can see various other mounds nestled in amongst the trees.

Standing at the base of Monk’s Mound. It’s quite a hike to get up there, especially in summer…

The visitor centre offers museum exhibit galleries, an orientation show theater, a public programming auditorium, museum shop, a snack-food service, public restrooms, and a courtyard for educational programs.

The visitor centre has some incredible displays of how life was lived in Cahokia Mounds.

Outdoors you’ll find self-guided tours, guided tours and trails.  Make sure you wear comfortable clothing and bring sunscreen as the site is very exposed.

Cahokia Mounds is a great day out and would be a really interesting outing for school trips.  There is no entrance fee but there is a donation box at the entrance.

Cahokia Mounds


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2 Responses to A lost prehistoric native civilisation – Cahokia Mounds

  1. Jean Gobel says:

    Something new to add to my next visit to the Midwest. Thanks!

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