Archaeologists have named the Mississippian Mound Builders for the earthworks they constructed along the Mississippi River and its tributaries – from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico – to its source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota. A cursory glance at Vincenzo Coronelli’s map of Western New France in 1688 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Western_New_France,_1688.jpg )* reveals a wide concentration of these mounds from Cahokia in St. Clair County, Illinois across the river to St. Louis, Missouri.
The French and Creole merchants and voyageurs of Colonial St. Louis did not disturb these mounds but they did name them and they used them to navigate the often treacherous channel of the Mississippi in relation to the various mounds. Thus one of St. Louis’ earliest nicknames became “The Mound City.”
This concentration of mounds and the substantial population that constructed and maintained them, indicate that as far back as a thousand years ago or more, humans recognized this situation in the mid-Mississippi River Valley as geographically rich and quite literally capitalized on it.
As far as we now know, all but one of the amazing earthworks situated on this, the west bank of the Mississippi River were demolished before national legislation was in place to protect important archaeological sites. That is why it’s extremely heartening that prior to major construction of a new bridge to connect Missouri & Illinois at St. Louis, archaeological digs are being conducted on both sides of the river within what once was the Mississippians’ Mound “City” ** in order to discover what lies buried under successive layers of human habitation and preserve it for posterity.
This post is the first in a series on the Mound City that became St. Louis.
* This online image of Vincenzo Coronelli’s map is in the public domain. You can view it in as large a format as you like on my recently released DVD, “A Walking Tour of Market Street, the Oldest Street in St. Louis”.
**See St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer, Tim O’Neil’s informative 02/26/2010 article “Unearthing Past Before Future Bridge Goes Up” on STLtoday.com.
© 2010 Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh