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Mound City illustration from Cahokia
Central Cahokia circa AD 1150, by Lloyd K. Townsend. Courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Cities of the Mound Builders
Huge earthen mounds positioned around a plaza characterized the cities that flourished along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. On top of the mounds were temples and homes of nobility. Commoners lived in thatched dwellings at ground level. The whole complex was surrounded by wooden fortifications and outside the city grew fields of corn. Although no one knows what the native people called themselves, archaeologists refer to them as the Mound Builders. The largest of the mounds is near present East St. Louis in Illinois with a base of 200,000 square feet, larger than the pyramids of Egypt. Hundreds of smaller mounds exist, the northernmost of which is near Red Wing, Minnesota.

Clay Vessels Comparison
Clay Vessels, Arkansas, Caddo, Mississippi Valley (United States) Arkansas or Oklahoma, Bowl & Vessel, 1250-1500, Ceramic, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund, 90.2.7 and 90.2.3

Artistic Production
Excavations of the various mounds have produced a storehouse of treasures made of clay, shell, marble, and copper. Each region is noted for a particular style of production. For example, sites in and around modern-day Arkansas produced elaborate pottery used in burials as well as many other art objects.

Spanish Conquistador Mask
Maya Mask of a Spanish Conquistador, 19th century, wood, pigment, The Paul C. Johnson, Jr. Fund, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 99.3.2

When Spanish explorers came north from present-day Mexico during the 16th century, they encountered the Mound Builders of the Mississippi Valley. Unfortunately, the native people were unable to survive the epidemic disease that followed and ultimately decimated the population. Only the Natchez people survived and continued to build mounds along the lower Mississippi River into the 17th century.

Effigy Bowl and Caddo Jar Native Amercan History and Culture


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