Archaeologists Uncover Suburb Of Giant Largest Prehistoric City

archaeologists, Cahokia
The ancient city of Cahokia in Illinois was the center of an advanced civilization from about 700 to 1400 A.D. Covering six square miles and home to up to 20,000 people, it was the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico. It ruled over a large area and had trade networks stretching across North America.

Dozens of mounds dot the site, atop which the people built temples and homes for the elite. Cahokia’s artisans made fine work like these worked copper plates typical of the Mississippian culture that created Cahokia.

Cahokia’s importance is recognized by it being designated a state historic site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It makes a good day trip from St. Louis and has an excellent interpretive center. You can also climb up some of the mounds to get a sweeping view of the site.

Now archaeologists have discovered one of its suburbs in a derelict neighborhood of East St. Louis. It’s not much to look at today. The excavation is taking place between a derelict meatpacking plant and an abandoned strip club. Back in the day, though, it was a prosperous suburb of an important city with more than a thousand dwellings and earthen pyramids just like those of Cahokia.

Now there are plans to build a new bridge across the Mississippi at this spot. It’s hoped that the bridge will bring desperately needed visitors and investment from St. Louis, Missouri, into this part of East St. Louis, Illinois. Archaeologists are feverishly working ahead of the bulldozers to learn about this important period of America’s. They’d like to see at least some of the land preserved for a historical park but are pessimistic about their prospects.

[Image courtesy Herb Roe]

Native American Burials Looted At Illinois State Historic Site

Native American, Kincaid Mounds
Native American burial mounds at Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site have been illegally excavated and driven over in the worst desecration of a state historic site the state has seen in years.

The Chicago Tribune reports that someone has dug holes into one of the Native American burials. In a separate incident, someone drove a vehicle over one of the mounds. It’s unclear if anything was taken.

The site dates from about 1050 to 1400 AD, during the Mississippian period, a high point in pre-Columbian civilization in the area when large towns created elaborate art and traded across North America. Kincaid was a large town and religious center. The Mississippian people often buried their dead with beads, arrows, pots, and other grave goods. These fetch a good price on the illegal antiquities market and were probably what the vandals were after.

Such crimes come with serious penalties. Disturbing an archaeological sites or human remains on state land carries up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Unsettling of burials on public land can also be a felony punishable by up to three years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.

Painting by Herbert Roe courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Barbed Wire Museums Take On A Prickly Subject

barbed wire
I’ve always loved museums on obscure subjects because they teach you how overlooked objects can have a big influence. Barbed wire is one of those objects.

While various inventors started experimenting with barbed wire in the 1850s, the founder of barbed wire is generally considered to be Joseph Glidden, whose 1873 design soon stretched across the American West. Before then, it was nearly impossible to enclose the vast rangelands of the West. There were constant fights over whose animals were on whose land. With the advent of barbed wire, land became enclosed, and the fights turned to passage rights and boundary disputes.

It’s often said barbed wire tamed the Old West, and while that’s true it also led to its demise. The West became more organized; freedom of movement suffered, and bigger and bigger ranches began to enclose huge swaths of land. Barbed wire was a boon to some and a curse to others. Many called it “the Devil’s rope” or “the Devil’s hatband.”

There are three major museums devoted to this humble but important invention. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead & Historical Center in DeKalb, Illinois, is devoted to the inventor of barbed wire and his carefully restored home, barn and blacksmith shop. The museum has a blacksmith who gives live demonstrations of his traditional craft including, of course, wire making.

%Gallery-155001%The Devil’s Rope Museum on Route 66 in McLean, Texas, has a huge collection of barbed wire. The original design inspired countless variants and supposed improvements. Also, thefts of barbed wire led manufacturers to design specific wires for large companies and ranches. Hundreds of these variants are on display, as well as art created from barbed wire and a room devoted to the history of Route 66.

Over in LaCrosse, Kansas, there’s the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, which has more than 2,000 varieties of wire as well as wire-making tools and displays of barbed wire being used in peace and at war. It’s the headquarters of the Antique Barbed Wire Society, one of several societies of collectors and historians. Yes, there are collectors for everything, and with so many variants of wire and so much history for each one, the hobby has attracted some devoted followers.

Lots of historical societies and pioneer museums have small displays of barbed wire, so the next time you pass one on the highway, stop by and check it out. Just remember: look, but don’t touch!

[Image courtesy Coyote Grafix via flickr]