COLLINSVILLE — A 700-year-old canoe discovered in a sandbar and painstakingly preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site will serve as the centerpiece of a new permanent exhibit opening Aug. 16.
The exhibit, Wetlands and Waterways: the Key to Cahokia, focuses on life along the rivers and wetlands of the Mississippi Valley that gave rise to Cahokia Mounds, America’s first city.
Visitors can get a preview of the fascinating new exhibit at a reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. The preview includes desserts, refreshments and entertainment, as well as authors Lori Belknap and Molly Wawrzyniak signing copies of the exhibit’s companion book.
Admission is $20 or free for members of the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society. Tickets may be purchased in the Museum Gift Shop or by calling (618) 344-7316.
Wetlands and Waterways: the Key to Cahokia includes a 52-foot-long mural depicting a backwater lake, river bluffs, forests and fields typical of the floodplain, known locally as the American Bottom.
The mural serves as backdrop to a life-size diorama with a woman harvesting squashes while other native crops grow nearby. She gazes across a lake rich with fish, turtles, ducks and more to watch as a man and a boy load their canoe. They are taking rabbits, fish, mussels, baskets of nuts and wild plants to trade at a nearby village along the lake.
Exhibit panels provide more detail about the scene. Other exhibit cases describe Native American agriculture, hunting and gathering and cosmological beliefs related to this environment.
In its own separate case is a dugout canoe made of bald cypress between 600 and 700 years ago. It was found in Arkansas on a sandbar in the St. Francis River after a flood. The Illinois State Archaeological Society bought the canoe and donated it to Cahokia Mounds. It was submerged in a chemical solution for three years to help preserve it and then allowed to dry out for another two years.
Tool marks and charring from the manufacturing process can still be seen on its surfaces.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is just eight miles from downtown St. Louis in Collinsville off Interstates 55/70 (exit 6) and Interstate 255 (exit 24), on Collinsville Road.
The historic site’s mounds are the largest Native American earthworks north of Mexico. They were part of a huge city created by the Mississippian culture that flourished 1,000 years ago in the Midwest and South.
The site is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The grounds are open every day. For information, call (618) 346-5160 or go to www.cahokiamounds.org.