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Mound 72

One of the most well known projects ever completed at Cahokia was begun by Fowler and a team of UW-Milwaukee researchers in 1967 when they began excavations at Mound 72. Excavations of Mound 72 began as an outgrowth of the larger Cahokia Mapping Project. Based on his extensive examination of historic maps, photographs, air photos, and the UW-Milwaukee map of Cahokia, Fowler identified Mound 72 as an anomoly at Cahokia. Several unique features about the mound stood out. First, Fowler noted that Mound 72 was oriented differently than most of the mounds at Cahokia, with its long axis on a northwest-southeast orientation rather than the north-south alignment most other mounds at the site exhibit. Investigating the layout of Mound 72 further, Fowler noted that in addition to its unusual orientation, Mound 72 also appeared to be located along a north-south line drawn from the southwest corner of Monks Mound that appears to mark the centerline of the Cahokia community. Extending this line from the southwest corner of Monks Mound, Fowler noted that it intersected with the southeast corner of Mound 72.

Noting the apparent care that went into the layout of the Cahokia community into consideration, Fowler believed that the alignment between the southeast corner of Mound 72 and the southwest corner Monks Mound was not coincidental, but was rather probably carefully planned. Fowler predicted that if the alignment was meaningful to the prehistoric Cahokians, than the intersection point of the north-south baseline with Mound 72 would probably have been marked with a large marker post. In order to more fully examine the nature of Mound 72 and the ideas that he was developing about ridge-top mounds at Cahokia, Fowler and a UW-Milwaukee crew excavated Mound 72 between 1967 and 1971.

UW-Milwaukee excavations of Mound 72 have provided a number of insights into Cahokia and Cahokian society. Excavations of the southwest corner of Mound 72, revealed evidence of a large marker post at the point predicted by Fowler, including the filled in post pit and traces of the cribbing logs used to hold the post upright in the post pit. Radiocarbon assays derived from the cribbing logs date the placement of the large post in Mound 72 to about AD 950. Additional excavations in Mound 72 revealed that the mound was constructed as a series of small submounds that were subsequently reshaped and covered over by the final ridge-top mound. Within these smaller mounds, a series of features were excavated, mainly burial pits and burial deposits. More than 250 individuals were interred within Mound 72.

The main burial in Mound 72 appears to have been an individual of great importance within the Cahokia community. Known as the "Beaded Burial" this individual is an adult male who was buried on top of a platform of approximately 20,000 marine shell beads. Next to the Beaded Burial, a number of other individuals were interred, accompanied by grave goods. Fowler has interpreted these individuals and their grave goods as retainers or dedicatory offerings to the individual buried on the shell platform. Among the grave goods included with these retainer burials were a copper wrapped staff, finely made "chunkey stones," mica, and several hundred arrowheads of very fine quality. These exotic materials hint at the external relationships that must have existed between Cahokia and other areas of the American mid-continent, particularly the arrowheads, which are manufactured in styles and from raw materials that indicate external relationships between Cahokia and areas as far away as Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Later Mound 72 burials show the importance of the mound was retained well after the interment of the Beaded Burial. Included among these later burials was the interment of four male individuals who were missing their hands and heads. This unfortunate quartet was buried on top of a prepared platform with their arms interlocked. Also located in Mound 72 was a rectangular burial pit that contained the remains of 53 females ranging in age between 15-30 years of age.

Among the latest burials placed in Mound 72 were those interred within a rectangular burial pit located along the southern margin of the mound. Prior to the interment of burials in this pit, it was lined with white sand, which is often used as a purifying layer in Mississippian contexts. Thirty-nine individuals were placed on top of the white sand. Forensic evidence indicates that these individuals met violent ends at the edge of the pit, and were then pushed into it from its southern edge. Evidence of violence includes incompletely decapitated individuals, individuals with fractured skulls, and individuals with fractured mandibles. Following their interrment, the 39 burials were covered with a layer of ash and matting, and 15 burials laid out on ten cedar pole litters were placed on top of the matting.

In almost all of its characteristics, the latest burial group in the rectangular burial pit is different from other burials contained in Mound 72. The apparent lack of care in placing the burials within the pit, the evidence for violence, and the mixing of male and female burials stand out in stark contrast to other Mound 72 burials. The individuals and their placement in the rectangular burial pit suggests that mortuary practices associated with Mound 72 burials were undergoing a change. The care accorded to the internment of the early burials in Mound 72 provide a significant contrast to the treatment in death of the later burials.


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Last Updated: April 24, 2002
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