Cahokia Mounds


IMG_4859Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

8 miles from St. Louis and along Route 40 sits an archaeological treasure- just outside of Collinsville, Illinois. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and as a World Heritage Site in 1982. Yet this site gets about 250,000 visitors a year compared to the 4 million that visit the St. Louis arch.

When I told St. Louis natives that I had taken the kids there to visit and it was pretty spectacular- I was met with a real curiosity- most had never even heard of it, much less visited. As a recovering student of archaeology (participating in a dig remains on my bucket list!), I am fascinated with ancient cultures, especially Latin American ones and how they lived and died. I realize I am not the norm. But still- the whole place retains a real air of mystery.

Here’s a little bit about this sacred place and if you ever get the chance to visit St. Louis or Illinois- GO! You won’t regret it.

Sitting across from the Mississippi River, Cahokia Mounds covers 2,000 acres and is considered the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. It was occupied primarily during the Mississippian period (800–1400). Primary features at the site include the 3.5 square mile Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the IMG_4856Americas. Its base covers over 14 acres and rises in 4 terraces to a height of 20.5 meters. The modern day stairs are built in the same way as the ancient peoples would have walked up the mound. It is believed that this mound was built in stages over a 200-300 year period. It is called Monks Mound because in the early 1800’s, Trappist monks lived across the road and had planned to build a monastery on top of the mound. They planted gardens and fruit trees but their plans were derailed and they were forced to return to France.

The ancient peoples of Cahokia Mounds were known as the Mound Builders and their original population was thought to have been only about 1,000 until about the 11th century when it expanded to tens of thousands. As with many other ancient structures, how these people built such complicated mounds is a mystery butIMG_4851 here’s what we do know. The mounds were made primarily of earth. The soil was dug with tools made of stone, wood or shell and transported on people’s backs in baskets to the construction site. There were about 120 mounds but the locations of only 109 have been recorded. Most of the mounds were used for ceremonies but some were also used for burial purposes.


Stockades were found at this site and they have been reconstructed so we can imagine what it was like. There were four stockades built around the center of the city. There’s also a presence of bastions which indicates a defensive function as well- an interior line of defense. Bastions were like guard towers with raised platforms inside where warriors could stand to launch arrows against attackers. They would have had to use rope lashings and other posts to support the platform. It’s estimated that about 15-20,000 logs were used to build each stockade. They would have had to cut, trim, transport and erect the logs.

IMG_4840They built houses in rows around open plazas. They had agricultural fields and were known to have traded with tribes in Minnesota. They used plants for food, dyes, medicines, clothing, and roof thatching. No one knows the name of the real city and the name Cahokia is that of an unrelated tribe that was living in the area when the first French explorers arrived in the late 17th century. During excavation, the bodies of nearly 300 people- most of them young women were discovered. They are thought to have been human sacrifices.

After 1200 A.D. there was a decline in the population and gradually the entire site was abandoned. Theories for that decline are the ones we are all familiar with- climate change, war, disease, drought but the truth is unknown.

Here’s the real mystery. Despite what we know today of its significance as a cultural and economic center and powerhouse in the middle of America, there is no mention of the city in Native American folklore or stories among the Osage, Omaha, Ponca and Quapaw tribes.  Archaeologists believe that something truly terrible happened at this site- something that all tribes wish to forget. What exactly that is- we shall never know.


To New Beginnings and 18 Years of Marriage

You might be wondering where I’ve been in the last month. Long story short. We moved back to California, moving company was 2 weeks late in delivering our stuff and all 3 kiddos began a new school year while my husband transitioned to a new work setting. As for me? A million crazy, outlandish things happened and at a certain point all I could do was laugh. So many great stories to share and I will at a certain point. For now, I am relishing in being home where I belong and creating my new normal. Work has picked up and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do meaningful work with nonprofit organizations that are changing lives.

On this Labor Day, I’m thinking about my husband and one of the greatest journeys I ever embarked on- getting married 18 years ago. I literally had no idea what I was doing but in a way I think that’s the way it should be- that’s life- stepping off the ledge- hoping for the best and knowing you’ve got to prepare for a little turbulence. So- here’s to new beginnings- that we never grow so comfortable that we are afraid to step off that ledge. I’m off to push my family into joining me for a hike in our beloved canyons this morning. In the meantime, while I catch my breath- I leave you with this piece written during my last week in St. Louis. Many blessings to you all…


The cicada’s song has returned and serenades us upon dusk. The out of nowhere monsoon thunder and lightning storms have resumed as well.We chase the fireflies around the yard and marvel at their lights. The ground smells strong after a good storm and the birds and bunnies remind us of how much life there is in the world.

I’m not scared anymore.

One year ago we landed in St. Louis, ready for an adventure and yet so sad to leave California. Also scared because I knew this move would bring so many changes and I was afraid of how those changes might affect us.

The past few years had caught up with us. My father-in-law’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing along with the aftermath. Ever watched a person die before your eyes? It’s a frightful thing and as you watch the horror unfold in front of you, control is slipping out of your hands and you realize this is how we all end. Life and marriage and kids and problems had turned us into shells of what we had been in our younger days, we found ourselves scrapping through, with no gusto for life- our feet heavy upon waking and hitting the hardwood floor most mornings. And then out of nowhere- poof- we were moving to St. Louis! Everything you thought about your life and what you knew about gone in that instant.

Although we didn’t know it at the time- we had just hit the re-start button for our lives. What an incredible gift. People entered our lives that we didn’t even know we needed. Experiences were had that we didn’t even know we needed to experience. But most importantly- our most valuable lesson is that we learned to laugh and find the joy in life and in each other again.

It is time for this family to go home back to California. We will pick up where we left off but from a different place. Continue our adventure we will- seeking out those people who are a bit different- the outsiders if you will- realizing how hard it is to be the person that no one talks or relates to, the person that doesn’t quite fit the narrative. Always looking for new places to discover, new journeys to travel, new experiences to have so we can continue to learn about ourselves.  We will challenge ourselves to be more empathetic, caring, loving and open. We will try our hardest to protect our sacred family time and space amidst the crazy of life and not overburden ourselves with outside commitments.

I’m not scared anymore.