Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Tim Garrison


Indians of North America -- History, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park (Ill.) -- Antiquities, Mississippian culture -- Illinois -- American Bottom




Across North America, remnants exist of the ancient works of Indigenous peoples. Prime examples are the long-abandoned city of Cahokia near present-day St. Louis, Illinois, which was once a bustling city larger than London in 1200 AD. In Cahokia, there are mounds that are as high as one hundred feet and a “Woodhenge” that functions as a calendar. Despite these impressive displays of engineering, urban planning, and understanding of astronomy, Cahokia was not protected as a National Historic Landmark until 1964--this late protection was the case for many of the mounds across America. Many mounds were plowed over and pueblos decayed before this happened. Non-natives attributed these works to other cultures, from Hindus to the Lost Tribes of Israel to the Welsh to aliens. Anglo-Americans of the time were faced with somewhat of a conundrum. They wanted to have antiquities as grand as Rome’s, yet they also did not want to admit that these antiquities were built by people that were Indigenous to the Americas. It was rare that a scholar of the time was willing to state that these works were built by the Indigenous inhabitants of North America in the nineteenth century. Oftentimes these theories functioned as a way to dismiss what they called the Indian as savage and incapable of constructing ancient cities; some scholars even put forth that the Indian drove away the people that had constructed the mounds. This thesis puts forth that this way of thinking--the combination of false theories, dismissal of the mounds, and the feeling that the mounds belonged to the white inhabitants of America caused these sites to be neglected. The study of the misconceptions and neglect of the mounds in the nineteenth century demonstrates the attitudes towards race at the time.


An undergraduate honors thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in University Honors and History

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