Friday, September 24, 2010

i don't believe a word they say, yet i'll readily grant they've done more research on the topic than i have, and they seem to have gathered lots of evidence one way or the other. i'm referring to what they know about the great city they now call cahokia, although everyone involved with it readily admits it's a misnomer: cahokia was the name of a small illini tribe that occupied the place later, related to the kaskaskia, whereas these people, there for hundreds of years, had the biggest city north of mexico from about 700 to about 1200. so big, they got metals from the rockies, from canada, from north carolina; shey were at the confluence of the rivers, and surely by having traveled that far, in every direction, they had seen quite a bit. their leaders lived high on the ten-story mound, claimed they were the sun gods, controlled woodhenge, the solar calendar, and its rebuilding, and used the bird-man and central to their religion. the bird man represented the sun, light, and the heavens; the serpent, on the other hand, represented the earth, and disorder, and all the evil forces that people had to tame when they cultivated their corn.

now it's said that they practiced human sacrifice like the incas, and had a social order similar to those places in mexico that they have dug and which they know quite a bit about. evidence of sacrifices comes from a place called mound 72; 53 skeletons of young girls were found there along with the remains of an obviously powerful leader. how did they manage this? who knows? it all gets murky around here, though it's clear that the place was well abandoned by 1400, and the cahokias and kaskaskias all agreed; these were not their direct relatives. people wandered up and down the rivers for years, settling in and around what they call the american bottom, the lowlands on the mississippi, and some just say, these people had larger mounds than most, but were otherwise very similar. i say, i don't believe a word they say. not that i have any evidence to the contrary.

ok so over by cincinnati there is a serpent mound, and this one also is in a kind of bottom land, very huge, equally mysterious, but you know, if the bird man and the serpent are the pillars of this religion, and i'm not sure you can conclude that, it would make sense that there would be mounds built in their honor. i just find it ironic that the capitals of good and evil are both so close to these national league cities....and, that they know so little, really, of what went on there. these 5-700 years are longer, really, than anyone else hung out in the valley, a larger, more prosperous, more stable, more successful society than anything we've seen since. in 1910 there were race riots, worst riots in history, by the way, 100 people died, in east saint louis, and this contributed to hostility between the races which even to this day makes it hard for white folks to knwo anything of consequence about an entire culture that remains around cahokia; i don't know the area well, but i always feel, when i'm around there, that what bit of racial tension there is in the area has its roots in that riot, the incident that got the white folks to flee up the cliffs and down the river a bit, and left east saint louis itself, and the towns around it, home of a steel mill, a race track, some superfund toxic sites;a bunch of bars; no working ambulance system; a police department that can't pay its own bills; in short, a place you wouldn't want to slow down and poke around. but i feel that it's almost like this stuff has worked out this way purely because of luck, because the mound builders wanted to be left alone for a couple of hundred years, before the archaeologists started serious guessing about who this bird-man actually was. it's like, yes, the superfund sites will keep them at bay for a few years...

the sun beats down days, the last fight of summer, though the equinox came and went, and supposedly things will be cooling off. these mound builders survived this kind of saint louis weather, one day hot, the next cold, then a thunderboomer; they made it through hundreds of years of this. this is unlike me, who, sixteen years into this illinois life, and i have my doubts. but the hospital, deep down in there, tucked in amongst the steel mills, saved one of my sons' lives; the day he realized he was in cahokia, i'll never forget, i was so glad to get him back. driving there and back, i'd pass under this huge mound, that blocked out the moon, and look up in awe at how dark it could be at night, with no lights on it at all, yet totally surrounded by racetrack, steel mill, urban blight. they call it monks mound, but that's a misnomer too (like des moines) - those monks that named it had no good reason to call it that, but this wrong-name habit kind of throws everything off, makes them think this mound is some catholic place or something related to those illini, or both. it slows down the digging, because they have to stop to explain it to all the tourists.

more on this stuff later. i'm in awe of it, kind of like when i was in peru, and they had this whole museum devoted to a girl whose body they'd pulled out from inside the volcano...this was a sacrifice? she'd been convinced that she was a go-between, between her people and the gods? do archaeologists actually get in there, amongst these graves, and sift around and put together bones? it's a little scary, i'd say; i'm not sure who they were, or what they did there, but i'm sure that, on some level at least, they probably didn't even want me coming along, 800 years later, speculating about who the heck they were. mississippians. mound builders. river runners. nobody knows what they called themselves, but they ruled. there, in the shadow of the arch, sandwiched among saint louis' ring roads and interstates, it looms high over that industrial area. that area gets almost quiet at night, when the traffic slows down, and the race track empties out. the spirits are left alone, a little longer.


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