UWM: Anthropology - Archaeological Research Laboratory
  Archaeological Research LaboratoryUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeUW-Milwaukee Anthropology ProgramUW-Milwaukee Graduate SchoolUWM Undergraduate Admissions

Palisade Investigations

Goddard air photo with arrow pointing to faint, light colored lines

The collection and analysis of the historic air photos of Cahokia led to another major UW-Milwaukee project at the site. Analysis of the Goddard/Ramey and Reeves air photos led several researchers, including Fowler, Charles Baeris, and Nelson Reed to the identification of a series of faint, light colored lines near the central portion of Cahokia.

Fowler's experience with air photo interpretation prompted him to suggest that the lines represented soil disturbances caused by subsurface prehistoric features. Investigating this hypothesis, UW-Milwaukee researchers began excavations in 1966 and 1967 that resulted in the identification of the remnants of a palisade construction sequence approximately 200 meters east of Monks Mound. In 1968, excavation efforts focused on an area 600 meters south of Monks Mound where the indicated that the southern end of the palisade might be located.
Palisade trench during excavation Field map of palisade excavation Excavation of early round bastion in the palisade wall
The UW-Milwaukee palisade excavations identified three palisade building stages, each marked by a distinctive type of bastion incorporated into their construction. The super-positioning of the palisade lines indicates that the bastions underwent a series of changes from the earliest round bastions to square bastions with back walls and finally to square bastions that lacked back walls. The UW-Milwaukee palisade excavations provide some clues into the social milieu that may have contributed to he palisade construction at Cahokia. In one instance, a square bastion of the second palisade line cut through a burned domestic structure. Numerous artifacts and pottery fragments lay scattered on the floor of the house, many of which appear to have been left where they were last used.

Excavation showing different building episodes of the palisade wall (looking north)House 4 living surface (looking south)Detail of House 4 living surface
Two interpretations have been offered to explain why a palisade line would have been placed through a domestic structure. One view is that the house was abandoned quickly and burned down to make way for palisade construction, perhaps in a hasty attempt to complete the palisade to stave off outside attack. A second view holds that palisade construction, like other public works at Cahokia, was unimpeded by residences or other structures that were already standing, a notion Fowler has referred to as "prehistoric urban renewal." Both interpretations provide a glimpse of the social dynamics behind palisade construction at Cahokia - either that threats to the community from the outside were a real concern, or the ruling elite who presumably oversaw the construction of the palisade, possessed the power to displace individuals dwellings or even neighborhoods to ensure that the project progressed.

Palisade wall during reconstruction Investigations of Cahokia's palisades begun by UW-Milwaukee have been one of the longest running research projects at Cahokia. UW-Milwaukee involvement with the palisade excavations continued through the early 1970's. This work was continued by the Illinois State Museum and later by the Illinois Department of Conservation. Washington University, Beloit College, and the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society conducted excavations looking for traces of the southern and western palisades. Most recently, Mary Beth Trubitt and John Kelly have conducted excavations along the western side of Cahokia's Grand Plaza where they feel they have identified the palisade south of Mound 48.

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

ARL Home Page

Field Programs




© 2001 UW-Milwaukee Archaeological Laboratory
Direct your comments and questions to the Archaeological Research Laboratory.
Last Updated: May 10, 2002
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee