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Mound Function Analysis

USGS map of the Cahokia area
Growing out of the Cahokia Mapping Project, a second project was begun by Fowler to carefully record and classify all of the mounds at Cahokia based on their shapes and possible functions. In addition to utilizing the data gathered as a result of the mapping project, Fowler examined vintage maps of the site as well as older versions of USGS quadrangles in order to identify areas at Cahokia where mounds may have been located and what these mounds may have looked like. This research resulted in the development of a classificatory scheme for the mounds of Cahokia. Based on the classification, Fowler proposed functional categories for the various mound forms found at Cahokia.

Platform Mounds

Platform mounds are the most common mound form found at Cahokia. Typically, these mounds are rectangular at their base and have a flattened top. Utilizing ethnohistoric accounts and archaeological data, Fowler suggested that platform mounds at Cahokia were the locations of important buildings within the community, such as the homes of chiefly elites or temples. The largest mound at Cahokia, Monks Mound, is known to have supported buildings on its first and fourth terraces A large building on the fourth terrace of Monks Mound is believed to have been the residence or council house of the paramount chief at Cahokia, while the building on the first terrace was probably a special purpose structure. Goddard air photo of Merrel Mound (Mound 42)
Air photo of Monks Mound

Conical Mounds

Round Top Mound (Mound 59)
Goddard air photo of the Persimmon Mound (Mound 51)
Conical mounds are less common than platform mounds at Cahokia, but are almost always found in association with platform mounds. The relationship of conical mounds with platform mounds at Cahokia was seen by Fowler as strongly reminiscent of the association of platform charnel-house mounds and conical burial mounds in the ethnohistoric period of the southeastern United States. Noting this relationship, Fowler suggested that conical mounds at Cahokia were probably used as burial mounds.

Ridge-Top Mounds

There are far fewer ridge-top mounds at Cahokia than other mound forms, but their locations at special points within the site provide insight into their function. Five of the eight ridge-top mounds at Cahokia are located at the extreme boundaries of the community or at other focal points within the site. The ridge-top mounds at Cahokia also appear to be aligned toward one another. Based on these two patterns, Fowler suggested that ridge-top mounds had special functions at Cahokia, marking the outer limits of the community and important points within it. Photo of the Powell Mound (Mound 86)

Cahokia Home Page

Metropolitan Cahokia
    Mapping Project
    Mound Analysis
    Air Photo Analysis
    Palisade Investigations
    Mound 72

Monks Mound Investigations
    First Terrace
    East Lobes

Other UWM Contributions
    Ramey Field
    Woodhenge 72
    Mound 96

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© 2001 UW-Milwaukee Archaeological Laboratory
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Last Updated: May 10, 2002
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