COLLINSVILLE — Archaeologists can look at the immense Cahokia Mounds. They can dig up bits of pottery and tools. They can even find human remains. But what do these physical traces reveal about the religion followed by the people who lived here 1,000 years ago?
Susan Alt will try to answer that question Sunday, Feb. 22, when she speaks at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. The free event begins at 2 p.m.
Alt, a Ph.D. from Indiana University, has spent years researching the mounds. Most recently, she has excavated Emerald Mound, a site about 25 miles from the historic site, near the town of Lebanon. She has found evidence of structures there that may have served as shrines and living quarters for people making pilgrimages to and from Cahokia.
She and her husband, Timothy Pauketat of the University of Illinois, believe Emerald Mounds was aligned with the moon’s phases and attracted religious pilgrims from all across the Midwest. Their findings suggest it predates Cahokia Mounds and helped spur development of Cahokia into a city of 10,000 people or more.
“We’re finding that religion wasn’t an outcome of greater complexity,” Alt has said. “Rather, greater complexity was a product of a religious movement.”
The historic site’s lecture series continues March 22 when William Romain presents “Ancient Skywatchers of the Eastern Woodlands,” a look at the 5,000-year-old tradition of Native American skywatching. Romain documents celestial alignments of site, including the great city of Cahokia.
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 Interpretive Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. There is no admission fee but we do suggest donations of $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $2 for students and $15 for families.
For information, call (618) 346-5160 or go to www.cahokiamounds.org.