Mississippian Culture 800-1500 AD

Cahokia: Larger than London

While Europe was in the Dark Ages (AD 500-1000 or so), and crusaders fought holy wars, a Native American culture thrived in the now southeastern US. Customs of physically elevating their political and religious places and leaders were very similar among the locations. They were known as the Mississippian Moundbuilders. 

The mounds they built may have been based on worshipping the sun. Cahokia (near St. Louis) was the largest of these mound communities. Cahokia was larger than London of its day, from 700-1300 A.D. 

The mound in photo at left, and in the distance at top, is "Monk's Mound". The photo at left is a current pic of the mound. Cahokia mounds has a large visitors' center onsite, several minutes east of St. Louis. The modern day highway runs just south of the big mound in the distance, above. The visitors' center is now in the plaza area (above). 

The moundbuilders were fading out as the era of European exploration began, about 1500 AD. Perhaps the climate cooled, and they wore out the nutrients in the soil, from decades of cultivation.

Dark blue dots are Mississippian sites.

See links to Kincaid site, near Metropolis-Brookport.

Millstone Bluff

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale archeological investigations of Mississippian culture span Southern Illinois, including Millstone Bluff, northeast of Vienna near Robbs.  Millstone is an interpretive nature trail of a Mississippian period village. See a cemetery, remains of a village and petroglyphs of a thunder bird, all perched on a high hill surrounded by an 80-foot bluff that pioneers used to carve out millstones.

The village is built on an isolated, flat-topped hill rising like a mesa about 300 feet above the landscape. Their cornfields were some distance away, in the valley, and their water had to be hauled up from the base of the bluff. Yet archaeologists have turned up no real evidence of defensive concerns. more

The cultural traits of the moundbuilders don't all originate in the same place, but they spread like wildfire right around A.D. 1000, everywhere from the Gulf Coast to the edges of Oklahoma -- Brian Butler, SIU-C archeology. 

Mill Creek Chert

Mill Creek is a tiny town on the Alexander-Union County line, between Jonesboro and Cairo. A millenium before Mill Creek had a post office, it had a huge mining operation in nearby hills, for chert. The dictionary says chert is an impure, massive, flintlike quartz or hornstone, of a dull color or hornstone, a siliceous (silica) stone, a variety of quartz, closely resembling flint, but more brittle.

Some mining continues today near Mill Creek of silica, which is used in a variety of products such as cleaning powders, toothpaste and the plastic cases of telephones.

The hoe pictured was found in Jackson County, Illinois, and is made of Mill Creek chert. The picture is from the Mississippian Artifacts website. It was strapped to a handle with leather binding. An archeologist from SIUC once told us the tools from here were shipped as far as Detroit in large canoes, and traded.

An Illinois State Museum website says

"Hoes made from Mill Creek Chert were stronger and more durable than hoes previously made from shell or bone. In comparison to other nearby chert sources, Mill Creek appears to be ideal for hoe manufacture and use. Although other cherts are equally fine-grained, Mill Creek Chert occurs as relatively large tabular nodules, a shape well suited for the manufcture of broad bifaces.

"...large chert quarries in the Shawnee Hills and the movement of large volumes of Mill Creek chert into the American Bottom (continued) for several hundred years. No matter how these stone quarrying, trading, and hoe-making activities were organized -- be it specialized traders and hoe-making craftsmen (less likely), or individual farmers making yearly treks south to quarry and make their personal hoes (more likely), or down-the-line trading of complete hoes from village to village (always likely) -- chert mining and manufacture of chert hoes were clearly important to maize agriculture and to the Mississippian economy as a whole."

Angel Mounds - Southern Indiana

The Angel Mounds near Evansville, IN are a Mississippian tourist attraction.

Explorer Hernando De Soto and crew explored the southeast US in 1540-1542. There is uncertainty exactly where he came, but it may have been through eastern Missouri, Southern Illinois (along the Ohio River) and Southern Indiana. De Soto's explorations generally coincide with the decline of the Cahokian moundbuilders' civilization.

Native Americans - 12,000 years

University of Memphis Anthropologists say Native Americans have spent at least 12,000 years on the North American continent.

The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American culture that flourished in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 to 1500 A.D., varying regionally.This moundbuilding tradition of these Mississippian peoples gave them the common name of Moundbuilders.