Native American History Near Alton: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Alton, Illinois is a great trip in itself. The charming town is the site of the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas (the debate was a prelude for the 1858 Congressional elections in which both men were candidates), as well as the birthplace of jazz legend, Miles Davis, and a historic downtown area.
But just about a half hour south of Alton is a historical site that will immerse you in centuries-old Native American history: the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
The Amazing Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Classified a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site for its importance to understanding the history of North America, the amazing Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is a must-see. Dating from 700-1400 AD, the area was once the largest city and urban center of its time and the largest archaeological site north of Mexico. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the importance of appreciating and protecting this historical site.
Well before European contact, Native Americans had established this ancient city. In fact, it was among the largest of the world’s populations in 1200 CE (AD). Commerce and civilization thrived here.
Of the original 120 mounds on the site, 80 remain today. Among them is Monks Mound, the largest earthen monument in all of North America. This impressive mountain of earth is 10 stories tall and was entirely made by hand over the course of centuries. While you climb the steps and appreciate the spectacular views, imagine the blood, sweat and tears that it took to build such an impressive structure without modern machines. More than that, standing at the top will capture your imagination as you think about the city that once was.
Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center
Once you’ve traversed the expansive grounds and climbed Monks Mound, head to the Interpretive Center to get more detailed information on life in the big (ancient) city.
The interpretive center at Cahokia Mounds houses very well-presented exhibits, artifacts and films to discover more about what made this once-thriving population. The center even has a life-size replica of the village, the people and their activities to wander through.
To bring your visit to life, don’t forget your iPod to download audio tours for convenient, on-the-go information. Note that if you want to see the whole thing, the entire site is fairly expansive and you’ll want to plan your day and equipment accordingly. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the grounds about a half-mile from the Interpretive Center.
By the way, it’s hard to believe that there is no admission charge to this spectacular site. Donations are graciously accepted. There’s no reason to not stop by the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. You’ll be so thrilled you did.