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10 September 2011
Big dig at Native American mound-builders site

The Mississippians whose pottery and building styles identify them as a single cultural group, lived in or near the Mississippi Valley (USA) more than 1,000 years ago. They erected complex cities, built enormous earthen mounds and disappeared in the space of about 200-300 years.
     But the stockyards site, known as the "East Saint Louis site," was abandoned after only 150 years. It lies 8 km (5 mi) west of the region's main group of mounds, the Cahokia Mounds, which was occupied for about another 150 years. Less than 1 percent of the Cahokia Mounds site has been excavated, but the village site will be fully excavated.
     "Having an opportunity to completely investigate a major portion of a site this large is almost unheard of. When we are finished with this project more of the East St. Louis mound group and the complex associated with it will have been excavated than all of Cahokia. We're trying to identify how this community, and its large mound center, relates to Cahokia, the largest mound center," said archaeologist Patrick Durst, of the Prairie Research Institute of the University of Illinois at Champaign.
     For archaeologists, this location is significant because it would have been the first habitation seen by visitors in prehistoric times to this region as they cruised down a much wider and shallower Mississippi in dugout canoes. The village would have been in the path of native people headed for the Cahokia Mounds ritual centre 8 km further inland.
     Artefacts usually found in other states, including pieces of finely decorated pottery from Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa, and beads carved from shells from the Gulf of Mexico, are being found almost daily. These discoveries support a long-held theory that the entire Cahokia area was the centre of a culture that built mounds throughout the Midwest and southeastern United States.
     A 15 cm (6-inch) high stone statue of a kneeling woman holding a conch shell was found last year. It is believed to be one of only a few that are known to exist. Durst said that the sheer amount of data being collected all from one place is likely to lead to answers to basic questions about the Mississippians.

Edited from BND.com (5 September 2011)

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