An ongoing exhibit at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian introduces visitors to the ancient Cahokia mounds site in Collinsville, Ill., and to the archaeological methods that are unraveling its mysteries.
Organized by the Mitchell Museum, “Cahokia: Rediscovering Archaeology” opened March 12 and will remain on view through October 30. The Mitchell is located at 3001 Central St., Evanston.
Settled between 600 and 1300 CE, Cahokia was a major metropolis of the mound-building Mississippian people.
The Mitchell exhibit consists of about 200 items, some from the Mitchell’s permanent collection and others on loan from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Beloit College’s Logan Museum of Anthropology, and the Illinois State Museum. Many are small stone tools and “points,” such as arrowheads. Some represent nomadic hunter-and-gatherer cultures that predated the agricultural Mississippian period by thousands of years.
The exhibit uses photos taken at Cahokia to illustrate how archaeologists map out and excavate a study site.
Visitors will learn how unearthed artifacts provide insight into Cahokia’s culture, economy, and everyday life.
Among the objects on display is a casting of the famous “Birdman Tablet,” discovered in 1971 on Cahokia’s Monks Mound, the largest man-made earthen mound in North America. The small, rectangular sandstone tablet, with the image of a falcon-nosed warrior carved on the front side, symbolizes the three worlds of the Mississippian belief system.
Potsherds, pieces of larger pots, provide examples of plain and decorated pottery. Effigy figures, objects made in the shape of animals or people, were used for special occasions. Smooth, round stones meant to be rolled on the ground were part of a popular Cahokian game known as chunkey. Spindle whorls were used to process fur or plant fiber into strands. Saltwater shells that came from as far away as the Gulf Coast testify to the scope of Cahokia’s trade network. Large, flared hoes of flint-like chert made it easier to cultivate corn fields.
A set of interactive, flip-up panels challenge visitors to identify photos of Cahokian objects.
Admission to the exhibit is included with Mitchell Museum admission, which is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors, students, teachers (with valid school ID), and children. Maximum admission per family is $10. Admission is also free for active-duty military personnel and their immediate families as part of the national Blue Star Museums program through September 4. Admission is free to everyone on the first Friday of every month. The independent, nonprofit Mitchell Museum is at 3001 Central St., Evanston. For information, phone (847) 475-1030. On the Net: http://www.mitchellmuseum.org.