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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Archaeology News Network: Dig near East St. Louis points to widespread fire

The Archaeology News Network: Dig near East St. Louis points to widespread fires

Many of the Early American legends speak of Wars, Burning of cities by fire, and natural catastrophes that burned & destroyed many cities as well.
The Mound Builders, Mississippians, Hopewell's, others... experienced these things.

Dig near East St. Louis points to widespread fire

Archaeologists who have found the remains of a prehistoric city beneath present-day East St. Louis have also uncovered a mystery: Why did Native Americans abandon the city of 3,000 or more people around the year 1200?
Kevin Henry of Belleville labels sediment found this month during an archaeological survey in and around East St. Louis. Work began in 2008 ahead of the construction of a new Mississippi River bridge. (Dawn Majors A much larger settlement to the east — at Cahokia Mounds, center of the Mississippian culture — would survive 200 more years, experts say, before it also ended abruptly and inexplicably.
One thing is clear from the archaeological work begun in 2008 ahead of the construction of a new Mississippi River bridge — the East St. Louis settlement was ravaged by fire in the late 1100s.
"We see evidence of a widespread fire around 1175," said Joe Galloy, coordinator at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey's American Bottom Field Station in Wood River.
He said an attack from outside, rioting or a ritual burning are among theories for the cause of the blaze. But nobody knows if the blaze ended the community. Continuing archeological investigation may provide more clues.
The archaeological survey is part of the University of Illinois' Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability and has conducted pre-excavation surveys for the Illinois Department of Transportation for more than 50 years.
When construction projects are planned, the agency surveys sites for archaeological value. If significant remains are found, a full excavation is done.
Work began this year on the planned new bridge to carry Interstate 70 and related projects that will cost about $670 million. The bridge is expected to open in 2014.
At the St. Louis end of the planned new bridge, archaeologists with the Missouri Department of Transportation are engaged in a similar project, one that is providing new insights into life in the city in the 19th century. Other than earthen mounds that survived into the mid-19th century, no clear evidence has been found that the Mississippians lived in what is now St. Louis.
No one knows what those Indians really called themselves. Mississippians is a modern name given to provide a frame of reference.
Cahokia Mounds, not near the present-day city of Cahokia, was the administrative center for the mound-building Mississippians, who flourished from around 700 to around 1400 over a vast reach of what is today the Midwest and Southeast.
Galloy said that in 1100, Cahokia Mounds had approximately the same population as London: 15,000 to 20,000 people. The United States would have no city as populous until Philadelphia in the late 1700s.
Galloy said Cahokia Mounds, the East St. Louis settlements and mounds in St. Louis were in near alignment. The only surviving mounds are in the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site at the western edge of Collinsville. Others on both sides of the river were lost to development long ago.
Most of the recent excavation has been focused along Collinsville Avenue, near downtown East St. Louis, and in and around the site of the old St. Louis National Stockyards, off Illinois Route 3. For security, archaeologists prefer not to be specific about dig locations.
Galloy said the project is the largest-ever archaeological dig involving the Mississippian culture and probably the most significant archaeology of any kind currently under way in the country.
About 50 people are working full-time on the project, and that number swells to about 90 each summer.
"We're digging up ancient urban neighborhoods," he said. "It's an unprecedented look at a Mississippian city." When finished, more land will have been excavated than at the internationally known Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
At Cahokia Mounds and many other archaeological sites, land is intentionally left undisturbed for future excavation. But exploration in the path of the bridge needs to be finished in the next two or three years or the opportunity is lost.
The stockyards, which opened in the 1870s and operated for more than a century, probably destroyed or damaged some archaeological history but left much to be discovered, Galloy said.
Last year, he said, an extraordinary 3 1/2-inch figurine of a woman holding a cup or dipper was found only about an inch from a manure drain installed at the stockyards more than 100 years ago.
The sites of more than 300 Mississippian homes and several hundred storage pits have been excavated. Workers have found numerous axes and arrow points, along with pieces of pottery and other evidence of the people's everyday lives.
Galloy said the project may not be a "game changer" that greatly alters current beliefs about the Mississippians, but he said it is producing an abundance of new information against which to evaluate those beliefs. He said researchers will be analyzing the findings for years.
"We're still in the beginning of the way to understanding," he said.

Author: Terry Hillig | Source: STL Today [December 28, 2010]

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