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TIL the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica is located in Illinois. Covering 13 acres, its footprint is comparible in size to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

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550 points · 6 months ago · edited 6 months ago

Cahokia itself was a city of several thousand people or more if you include all the surrounding associated sites. There are over 100 mounds. At the center of the city (in front of Monks Mound) was a Grand Plaza artificially created by leveling off and modifying the ground surface. Mound 72 features over 250 skeletons, some likely sacrificed, others who were elites. Mississippian peoples from Cahokia established colonies or settlements as far north as Aztalan, Wisconsin and in the town of Trempealeau, Wisconsin.

So what were the purposes of the mounds? It doesn’t say anything about purpose in the Wikipedia link.

The flat-topped pyramidal mounds usually had elite residences, temples, or mortuary structures. Conical and linear/"ridgetop" mounds sometimes has burials inside them (which was a practice going back several thousand years prior). Many mounds were built in stages over time so a pyramidal mound might have been expanded several times, each stage topped with a structure. The structure would be burned or removed (perhaps to mark the death of a chief) and the mound built bigger with a new structure. The mounds weren't always grassy like they look today - they were capped with different colors soils/clays (tan, black, white, even red and blue where those soil types were available).


In addition, prior to the construction of levies, the mounds offered protection from seasonal flooding and a vantage point to view oncoming threats/opportunities.

Cahokia is supposedly an early engineered city. An amazing feet for the times of North America. Not a settlement that grew over time, to put this in perspective. A planned enterprise of nations with skills to do so.

Pretty amazing layout and structures 6–10 square miles and at its peak 40-60k People’s.

66 points · 6 months ago · edited 6 months ago

Yeah I read somewhere (I think it was the book 1491 which is a great read) that the society that built Cahokia didn't live in state-organized cities, but in a confederation of chiefdom-level agricultural settlements. They combined efforts to build the city and the pyramids as a planned enterprise like you said, both as a ceremonial location and as a central place for trade in the heart of the Mississippian world.

It really turned a lot of conventional knowledge on it's head that such a society could build something as big as and complex, as beforehand it was thought that city-based states with centralized authority was the only type of social organization that could organize such mega-projects.

So it was kind of like Vaes Dothrak?

Yes! Not a bad analogy, from what I understand of it. There's speculation that the city's population would swell greatly at ceremonial times when a lot of politics, commerce, and religious ritual would take place, and then most people would go back to their villages leaving a smaller year-round population at Cahokia.

That book is amazing. Check out 1493 aswell

Really late for this.


This is exactly how they thought the Maya were organized during the 1970s. It was rather wrong. I would approach with caution. It may be right. It might be wrong. However, this model was proposed before for another pyramid building society and...

If I recall correctly, the internal structure of the primary mound is really interesting too. The materials it's made from should slump and not be able to be raised into a large mound like that, but they layered the local soil with large amounts of sand in internal blocks to maintain the correct moisture content to keep the mound for getting too wet and slumping or from drying out and cracking.

Cahokia is the largest archaeological site in America and was a huge population center but 40-60k people is way too many. The accepted population range tops out at 20k now and is as low as under 10k, depending on the techniques used to estimate population size and where you draw the "city limits"

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I’m not sure that has been determined outside hypothesis.

That being said, burial and religious ceremony seem to be popular reasons.

Just to add, ive been there and they are larger than they seem in pictures. Itd be easy to imagine several buildings could be built on each one, and it prevented flooding.

I live very nearby. My opinion is that they were refuges in times of flood to a certain extent. They are mostly on the Mississippi flood plain. In addition to the classical purposes.

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Comment deleted6 months ago(5 children)

When I was a kid- like, second grade, maybe 1999- we took a trip to the Cahokia Mounds. I hate myself for saying this, but at the time, it was the most boring field trip I ever took (aside from the Alberici building in eighth grade for my Earthkeepers class). Like I said, I hate myself for saying it. I was younger and dumber and couldn't recognize the importance of anything significant. I've lived in St. Louis for my entire life and still have yet to revisit the site. I've wanted to for years, though- I'm 25 now. We just suck at planning things out.

I remember being a kid and seeing the "artistic recreations" of Cahokia inside of the museum(?). I was like, "All of that was here?! Where did it go? This is boring". I am so angry with myself for thinking that way. I need to go back.

I have driven by it 50 times and never gone in. I need a tour guide. (Plug for boxers n briefs strip club, or PT's if you prefer.)

Ew, PT's has a bit of a, um, reputation that most find unappealing. But to each their own.

My school used to take us to the museum in the early 90s. The thing I remember most about it was the naked maniquens every where.

When I taught in St. Louis, that period in history lined up with an annual weekend celebration they had. I always offered the kids extra credit for an optional field trip. I was shocked year after year how many kids showed up. I'm sure a lot of them were pushed by their parents, but you could tell they were having s good time.

214 points · 6 months ago

Right across the river from st. louis, mo

Hey us Metro-Easterners have to tell everyone we meet that we are from “St. Louis” let us have this

So where are you from?


Oh I love Chicago!

*eye twitch*

Not to mention when you try describing where anything is (edwardsville, belleville, even as far as carbondale, etc), people just act in disbelief that you survived "east st. louis"...

Everyone knows Edwardsvillians don’t go to ESTL

As an Edwardsvillian, can confirm.

That's funny. I'm in CV and have called them Edwardsvillians my whole life.

That’s better than what other people from surrounding areas call us 😂

12 points · 6 months ago

Grew up downstate, now live in NY state. When I was in IL, I lived 4 hours from Chicago, now I live 4 hours from NYC. In both cases, when people hear my state, they talk about a city 250 miles away.

10 points · 6 months ago

I feel your pain. I'm from central Illinois and lived in Japan for five years. I had an acquaintance that told everyone that I was from Chicago. I get it, most people in Japan have no idea what or where "Normal, IL" is, but it was important to me!

5 points · 6 months ago

Yep. My sister in law lives in Bloomington, and I went to school in Jacksonville. I actually do know where Normal is.

Of course, I’m not Japanese.

Well, you were really screwed bc you weren't even the most popular "Bloomington" in the midwest.

Maybe you should've moved to Carlock for a more exclusive name! : )

I have a friend in Taiwan. He asked me about NYC, LA, Denver, etc...I live in KC.

Not trying to be a jerk but why was that important to you? I mean these weren't like the in-laws and they most likely would have no idea about Illinois other than Chicago. Just asking.

Totally reasonable question! I just really like where I'm from, despite that I don't want to live there in my adult life. My family has been in the area for a few generations and it has connections to important Illinois and US history (Lincoln, for example), which I find interesting and wish people knew about. Nothing wrong with Chicago, but hometown pride, you know? I always liked meeting people from Japan who grew up outside of Tokyo...not because Tokyo is bad, but because I like learning about the rest of the country and those people provided a reference point.

Also, I just didn't like someone else telling other people about me and doing it inaccurately while standing right next to me, but due to my job it was a relationship/partnership that I couldn't avoid, so I just quietly (albeit pleasantly) added an addendum whenever I was introduced.

Got it. Both reasons totally make sense.

Most wouldn't know Illinois to be fair, though a few probably knew Chicago.

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Lol now you have to deal with upstate, southern tier, central, north country. Have you had a garbage plate yet?

I haven’t yet, but only been here a little while.


East or West!?

Or the looks you get for saying you work in Granite City.

9 points · 6 months ago

The joke in college was “a girl tells her boyfriend to kiss her where it smells, so he takes her to Granite City and kisses her.”

Goddamn. Ok, that's fucking funny. I've never heard anyone say that one. I'm going to use that the next time I'm in Granite.

3 points · 6 months ago

Haha yeah I went to SIUC with a group of guys from Edwardsville they used to love telling that joke.

East St Louis is quaint compared to North City.

Damn Skippy!


A place that has regressed since the time the pyramid was built

We have Imo's Pizza though.

You have goey butter cake too.

Didn't realize that was an STL thing and I've lived here my entire life. Thank you.

Pork steaks too my friend.

Maulls had been saved!

3 points · 6 months ago

I grilled pork steaks tonight! Man they were good!

RIP maulls bbq sauce.

4 points · 6 months ago

I saw Maulls back on the shelf at schnucks today. Must have started shipping again.

Don't forget the provel cheese!

I had provel and imos salad dressing on my salad tonight, I live in Las Vegas, and smuggle as much as I can fit in my bags every time I go home.

And toasted ravioli!

eemos, eyemos, who knows?

Life Pro Tip: No one says "eyemos"...

It’s from an old Imos commercial

And Lion's choice! Only things I miss.

18 points · 6 months ago · edited 6 months ago

The only thing I miss from when I moved from Missouri was Imo's pizza. Friends too, I guess, but you can't easily eat friends.

22 points · 6 months ago

A decent huge zoo that's always free to enter, donations optional, was pretty cool.

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You can have imo's shipped to you fyi.

I know. Unfortunately I don't have the means to cook it.

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That is not a selling point. Provel is absolutely disgusting.

Definitely something I never understood when living in STL, that pizza is gross.

It's an acquired taste born of the poor Italian neighborhood called the hill. Cheap ingredients. Always use canned mushrooms too.

Prove is amazing. Different strokes for different folks I guess

Cardboard with plastic cheese.

Prcoessed cheese product. It’s not cheese

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A couple miles down the interstate is a giant landfill. Everyone thinks it's apart of Cahokia mounds, it's not, it has your trash in it steve.

What if that's what they used the mounds for?

So in the distant future, after all the trash decomposed, people will study our "mounds".

Actually, landfills will be incredibly helpful in piecing together our timeline. The trash goes in layer by layer, year by year. Future archaeologists will drool at the sight of one.

How long will they remain toxic for?

That specific landfill in STL? Forever pretty much. They've stored nuclear waste there so whoever dicovers that place after a while is in for a suprise

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That also sounds like a terrible pick up line. "Hello I am an archaeologist I would like to study your mounds."

amazing pick up line


Sounds like the nerdy guy from Futurama, wearing a shirt that says "chicks dig paleontologists", and mentions that he owns another one that says "Paleontologists do it in the dirt".

I know that down here in Florida we have a lot of shell mounds. They served as both land terracing and were made out of the empty shellfish they ate as well as broken and unusable objects, essentially a trash mound in their sense.

1 point · 6 months ago

Iirc a lot of the topography in Rome is landfill

9 points · 6 months ago

Another fun fact, about a mile down the same road the mounds are on, is one of the easiest areas to buy street heroin in the area, outside of St Louis proper.

Blackburn road? I’ve never been myself but I hear it’s a doozy

One time I was in a car with a few friends and we were heading to St. Louis from Edwardsville. As we were passing the landfill one friend said, "Look!! Cahokia Mounds!!" She was not the brightest.

Well, it's an enormous pile of dirt around where you would expect to find Cahokia Mounds due to the signs. There's nothing to say "This one's a landfill" except some of the engineering bits up top which aren't familiar with most people.

Personally, I think the mounds are the major draw to the east side from a tourism standpoint and building that big landfill there was just insane.

I wonder what the historians will say about it in 3000 years.

"Just think, Andy, in thousands of years scientists will look back on this and wonder why we built it."

"..Why did we build it?"

"What do I look like, a scientist?"

My boyfriend and I both have been to St. Louis literally hundreds of times throughout our lives... he still refuses to believe me that that's a landfill.

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The have a winter solstice sunrise observation/celebration there, I bet it's cool, but I know it's cold.

I've been to the summer solstice one. Weather is better but you have to get up hella early for it.

That's actually nearby, at the woodhenge. I go every year.

35 points · 6 months ago

I'm in Illinois and I didn't even know this

Did you know there is a fruit native to Illinois that you’ve probably never had?

It’s called a “paw paw” and it has a tropical mango-banana-citrus flavor

Made paw paw bread for Thanksgiving. Also had persimmons.

Persimmons are amazing unless they are not yet ripe. One of the most bitter things I have ever tasted and somehow you can't even wash the flavor out of your mouth.

You've got that right. However, I have found that if you keep them, the unripe one's are not nearly as bitter.

It's super common to pick these and make wine from them in SoIL.

Is it? Maybe I never had them because I’m from Chicago. The only native fruits we have around here are the ones in Boystown ayooo

Yes, it is. North of I74 and south of I64 might as well be different states. :)

Do you know of anywhere in SoIL that sells paw paw wine??

Afraid not. Everyone I know of made it for personal use.

Well, damn. :)

Thanks for this! I never knew...

3 points · 6 months ago

Did you know about the regional dish known as the hoseshoe sandwich?

Springfield baby! I go by Darcy's whenever I go through.

I’ve heard of a gymshoe

We don’t eat our paw paw’s where I’m from, son.

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3 points · 6 months ago

You’re not from downstate, though, or you’d know about this from every year’s field trip in elementary school.


Dang, pyramids were a really good way to make sure your building didn't fall down.

59 points · 6 months ago

Truly the pinnacle of rock-piling techniques.

Except here they has to use the available materials and they chose sandy clays of different types and with different properties to make the structures. You can learn loads about it in the museum at the mounds. They think that at the peak of its population, around 750 years ago, it was the most populous city on earth. Larger than London at the time.

They think that at the peak of its population, around 750 years ago, it was the most populous city on earth. Larger than London at the time.

Its unlikely that they where actually the largest city in the world (after all with limited agriculture population density was low), this city in china had a population as high as 800k around that time and Im sure I missed a few that where even bigger.

People frequently use London as an example of a city when they want to make a city seem bigger than it really is. London was not nearly as important or big as it is now back then, its population was minuscule and the population of England was much more evenly distributed across many cities and towns as opposed to the London centered England we see today.

Its a bit like telling someone in a few thousand years that a city in the early 15000s was bigger than New York knowing that they will concur up pictures of the big city it would become in a few centuries and not the small trading outpost it was at the time.

A much better comparison would be Constantinople, Rome or even Paris.

Jet fuel can't melt pyramids?

How much jet fuel are you willing to give me?

This is close to me... it’s kind of falling down

It is slumping, though.

"Hey pyramid! Stop slumping and sit up straight!"

Live 10 miles away. Every school around goes there as field trips. The museum near it is really cool too.

I'm trying to be impressed that it has a comparable "footprint" to a full pyramid. But you know, the thing that makes a pyramid impressive is not its footprint.

If I lived on a two-acre plot, I could say that the footprint of my land is comparable to the Empire State Building, but nobody would give a shit.

I'm not saying that this structure isn't impressive at all. It is, in terms of its age, the fact that it's still here, why it was built, who built it, its preservation today, etc. I think trying to compare it in that way makes it look silly by comparison, and less interesting.

11 points · 6 months ago

I'm with you. Not to mention the fact that it's been falling down due to "slumping" since it was under construction. I love learning about other civilizations, and the mystery is always fascinating, but it's no wonder-o-the-world. Comparing this to Giza is way off. Still cool though, but that's just silly.

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Not to nitpick but OP must mean the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica in the New World. Giza has a latitude of 30.0131° N, whereas Mesoamerica has a northern boundary coordinate of ~28° N.

That's some excellent nitpicking right there.

Really a top notch nitpicker over here

10 points · 6 months ago

Yeah if I ever have a nit to pick I'll call this guy

You are technically correct.

The BEST kind of correct.

6 points · 6 months ago

I’ll also nitpick. OP referenced the base size (not the height). According to Wikipedia, Monks Mound (Cahokia) has a base of 775 feet X 955 feet, the Great Pyramid at Giza has a base of 755 feet X 755 feet; making the footprint at Cahokia larger.

Of course, Giza is quite a bit higher (~480 feet vs. ~100 feet),

I like to amaze people with the fact that Chicago is at the same latitude as Rome.

Wow how do they contain their shock

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worth checking out if you are passing through St. Louis. When you get off the highway near the site, there are small mounds along the road with chain link fence around them

When I was a kid, my school took us on several field trips to Cahokia Mounds. It's a cool place and not something you'd expect to find in Illinois. Worth checking out for sure.

We always went to Dickson Mounds long before they were closed for public viewing.

Stopped by here on a road trip a few years back. It’s one of the best memories of my life. Sun was just setting as we got there, but the mounds definitely stood out. Before seeing signs for it on the road, I never even knew a place like this existed in North America! Icing on the cake was seeing some deer prancing through the fields on our way back to the car and seeing fireflies for the first and only time in my life!

This is like bragging you have the largest collection of cars in the country but really you’re referring to your remote control car collection. That’s not a pyramid, it’s a mound.

YES my state made headlines for something not related to some new corrupt politician

At its peak from about 1000 to 1200ad its population was greater than London's.

2 points · 6 months ago

This is a fairly meaningless statement when London was so small at the time.

Hey, I've been there! Really amazing to climb the steps and look around from the top. From there you can see all the smaller mounds, as well as read some informatics placards about the area.

It's real fun on the 4th of July.

Down the road from here is a nice Hispanic guy who will cut you a fresh fruit salad for a few bucks.

There's a village in southern Illinois called Mounds. I think it has like 200 or so residents, and there are burial/ceremonial mounds all over the place. I remember on one side of town, as you enter there's a guy with his house on top of one of the mounds. There's heaps and heaps of mounds in Illinois.

St. Louis was once commonly called Mound City since it was built on Native American Mounds, most of which don't exist anymore. There used to be a bronze plaque mounted near North Broadway that showed a map of where the different mounds were located. It has long since been stolen though.

I live in Northern Illinois and I had no idea these existed 😅


I’ve been there before, but I never really appreciated how large it was. This certainly puts that memory into perspective. It was still a really cool trip.

I'm pretty sure I've been to the top of this. If it's the same one I'm kinda surprised. I expected the pyramid in Giza to be larger.

Giza is certainly taller.

Hey I know this place, Ive excavated here in the past!

Did you find anything cool?

Yeah a lot actually! It's a fascinating place and I would recommend anyone to visit.

We have Indian mounds in Tampa also but no pyramids.

I like that people think of Cahokia and think Cahokia Mounds, glad they don’t see the corner gas station at the entrance to the hood a block west of this...

In all fairness, it is more a mound than a real pyramid.

It used to be we tore down these cultural treasures and used the stone to make roads. It is sad to think N. America had these covering the landscape but now lost and gone, whispered about. Many US cities were built were they are due to the usefulness of the gathered stone (aka pyramids/temples). I think i heard Atlanta had one.

if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesoamerica you may be entitled to compensation

Stone pyramids seem to hold up a little better.

This one is in great shape and isn't stone. The top is flat by design as people lived on top.

It is also some 3000 years more recent.

Looks like a modern stepped landfill minus the methane burners and vents.

The landfill is a couple miles down the road.

You must be talking about the city of East st Louis.

Thought that pic was familiar. Ive climbed that many times. Definitely worth checking out if ever passing through ;)

This i suspect is the city cortez was lead north to find but the indians oral history didnt account for its abandonmentml.

I thought the thumbnail was the xp desktop background

so like... do these pyramids have insides to them? or is it just a hill with dirt rocks or stones placed on it in a regularly angled fashion?

They are just dirt mounds, nothing like the ones in mesoamerica or Peru

They're literally dirt mounds. The priests or chief supposedly lived there along with his servants. That's why it's called Monks Mound

like, inside the mound or on top of the mound? did they make the mound in a field or just build a temple on top of a hill?

2 points · 6 months ago

They built buildings on top of the hill.

As someone else pointed out all the structures or anything was on top and outside of the mound itself. But typically these mounds were burial mounds. In some cases they would make human sacrifices and bury them with the person of importance that was also buried there. There are mounds that vary in size and use all around the complex.

there is actually one in st louis still!

I live in Illinois, I have for 26 years. How have I not known this?

Comment deleted6 months ago(1 child)

Nope. Mesoamerica refers to a cultural region that goes from part of north america (nowadays Mexico) to the north of Central America (wich is now Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and part of Costa Rica) it's a cultural are arather than a geographic term.

In the other hand, Op said north of mesoamerica

Was there last year, and it’s an amazing place to be sure. By holy crap is it ever surrounded by shit. It’s depressing in a way that that achievement of ancient civilization is bordered by junkyards and a mile from a ginormous landfill. Says a lot about our culture, maybe.

Those mounds remind me of the ones I saw in Ireland.

when I went to Cahokia last March, a man had driven his red corvette to the top and was digging with a shovel for a hidden passageway.

But Cahokians had their shit straight, we have so much to learn from them.

TBF, all the Canadian ones melted.

I didn’t know this and considering my grandpa lived in the same county as this and never took me whenever I’d visit with my family I’m going to guess he didn’t know either. But now I know and will see about taking a detour next time I go to St. Louis.

thought it was the windows xp background

My amateur archaeologist grandma lives near here, so naturally, I've visited it. It is definitely worth a visit if you're in the area, and apparently jogging up and down the steps is a favorite pastime of people here...

I have always wanted to check it out, I go to Springfield every year and next year might happen to be the one that I have time to go. Can't wait

I live 15 minutes from here. It really is amazing and it’s surrounded by all kinds of different mounds made by the same tribe. The saddest part is that since my youth the local landfill has overtaken it as the highest point around. The Kahokia mounds were awe inspiring when I was little. Now my kids could care less when there is a another “mound” nearly twice its size a few miles away.

I’ve been on top of the mound, it’s pretty breathtaking.

Here’s a great info graphic about this area. Noticed it randomly after someone went on and on about visiting Cahokia.

I live here, there is a really shitty golf course right next to it!

... I mean... Everything is comparable in size to the Great Pyramid of Giza. My dick is comparable in size to the Great Pyramid of Giza, it's just comparably a little smaller

Ah, Cahokia Mounds. The best part is the enormous landfill down the road that makes Monk’s Mound look like a small pile of dirt in comparison.

Monks mound is pretty impressive. If you take the stairs to the top, the view of the River valley and St Louis on the other side is pretty neat.

This place is incredible! I decided to stop not knowing much about it while on a road trip. I ended up spending hours there. When on top of the largest mound, it seems big but nothing crazy... Until you stop and think about how it was built by people with no machines hundreds of years ago. It really is an amazing site! And the little museum that has great artifacts brought there from as far away as the ocean.

hey, that's right across the river from the bar I own! (and yeah, I already knew that fact)

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