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8 November 2008
St.Louis' last Indian mound is for sale

A house in St.Louis (Missouri, USA) is for sale for $400,000. However, it's what lies beneath the home that excites lovers of St. Louis history, or, in this case, prehistory. The house sits on Sugar Loaf Mound, the city's last remaining link with the native people who lived in the area long before the arrival of the first European settlers.
     There once were dozens of these earthen structures in St. Louis, but all save Sugar Loaf were cleared in the name of progress. That's why people interested in the ancient Mississippians tend to look eastward, to the Metro East and Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. But those in the know have long pointed out Sugar Loaf, which rises between Interstate 55 and the Mississippi River, about 4 miles south of the Arch. Now, this last vestige of Mound City the 19th century nickname for St. Louis is for sale.
     "One of the reasons that price tag is on it is to discourage people who would want to (demolish) the mound," said Leigh Maibes - the real estate agent representing  the property's - noting that the owner wants a buyer who will act as a custodian for the site. The mound, but not the house, was listed in 1984 on the National Register of Historic Places. That designation doesn't prohibit an owner from damaging or even destroying the mound. Sugar Loaf was named by early settlers for its lumpish shape. Originally, it likely had a more defined and terraced shape. The property for sale doesn't include the entire mound, and there's another house on a lower tier.
     John Kelly, an archaeology professor at Washington University, said scientists and historians aren't sure what to make of Sugar Loaf Mound, which has never been the site of an extensive excavation. Kelly said he suspects that the mound is about 2,000 years old, dating to the Middle Woodland Period, which lasted from about 1000 BCE to 1000 CE. But, the archaeologist said, without a serious excavation there's no way to know for sure. Kelly said it was most likely a burial mound, which were commonly situated on river bluffs. Or, the mound could have been used as a platform for a structure like a temple or a chieftain's home.
     That Sugar Loaf Mound survived this long is an accident of geography, said Nini Harris, a St. Louis historian and author. Harris said that the mound was spared largely because it is on a steep, mile-long bank along the river. Building factories and homes there would have been difficult, so early developers largely skipped this stretch of the river. That's not to say that the mound hasn't suffered in the name of progress. Part of it was demolished about 150 years ago by workers at a nearby quarry. The construction of Interstate 55 in the 1960s obscured much of the mound's western slope.
     For more information, visit a website and blog created by Maibes, sugarloafmoundstl.com.

Source: STL Today (4 November 2008)

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