The Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center gives a comprehensive introduction to the prehistoric culture that created Cahokia Mounds.
Its most impressive feature is a life-size diorama of Cahokia as it was around the year 1200 B.C.E., built amid mirrored walls that give the illusion that you are walking through a neighborhood of the city.
Don’t miss the Birdman Tablet that’s located at the entrance to the gallery. The artifact was found during excavations in 1971, and its image of a human dressed in eagle or falcon regalia has been adopted as the symbol for Cahokia Mounds.
The heavy bronze doors to the center are also worth noting. The bas-relief panels depict birds in flight over Monks Mound and were designed by Preston Jackson of Peoria, Illinois. Each door weighs approximately 800 pounds.
While the center gives information on how the people of Cahokia lived, it also speculates on why this advanced civilization declined. Around 1200 B.C.E., its population began to decrease, though Cahokia continued as the region’s largest ceremonial center.
Archeologists surmise that depletion of natural resources in the area may have been partly responsible, as fish and game populations declined and soil fertility was depleted. Social unrest may have been an additional factor, as well as climate change and disease. By the late 1300s, Cahokia was largely abandoned.
The grounds are open each day from 8 a.m. to dusk; hours at the interpretive center vary. The orientation video “The City of the Sun” provides a 15-minute overview of the history of Cahokia Mounds. It’s shown hourly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.