More than 40 years ago archaeologists discovered a thousand-year-old mass grave site in Illinois. The scene depicts one of the most extravagant acts of violence ever documented in ancient America where a total of 53 skeleton were lined from corner to corner.
A 10-foot (3 meters) mound called Mound 72 by modern-day archaeologists holds the remains of 272 people, many of them sacrificed. It is located at Cahokia, a city located near modern-day St. Louis that flourished from A.D. 1050 to 1200.
The archaeology of the mound is complex, but it appears as if people were sacrificed gradually in a series of episodes. In one episode, 52 malnourished women ages 18 to 23, along with a woman in her 30s, were sacrificed at the same time. In another episode, it appears that 39 men and women were clubbed to death. The mound also holds the remains of two individuals who were buried with 20,000 shell beads. It's possible that some or all of the sacrifices were dedicated to the two individuals.
The victims all appeared to be women, mostly in their late teens or early 20s. Evidence suggested they were strangled, or perhaps cut at the throat, at the edge of their shared mass grave, and then interred, meters away from an ornate burial of two men thought to be clan elders, political leaders, spiritual guides, or all three.
But the women were not alone. At the other of end the mound were three more mass graves, containing another 65 skeletons between them, also apparently of females.
By the time the entire mound had been excavated, two dozen burial pits had emerged, cradling some 270 human remains, each betraying signs of various degrees of violence — from having their jaws broken to being buried alive.
Archaeologists first uncovered this grim tableau in 1967 while excavating the prehistoric city of Cahokia, at its peak from 1050 to 1150 CE, the seat of the ancient Mississippian culture.
Now little more than a series of grassy hillocks outside St. Louis, Cahokia was once the metropole of a civilization whose trade routes and religious influence stretched from the Great Lakes to the Deep South, and whose culture shaped the ways of the Plains and Southern Indians.
As the largest display of ritual killing found anywhere north of Mexico, the cluster of Cahokia mass graves — known as Mound 72 — has been one of the most studied features in the country.
Experts have described "all-female" remains as “unblemished”; some speculated that they were virgins; others, taking a more economic view, suggested that their deaths were meant as a display of wealth, since women were the core of Cahokia’s workforce. Still others thought it was a way of eliminating possible future rivals in a matrilineal society.
But new research casts doubt on this most-touted trait of Mound 72. A study published in the July issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology finds that men were also likely among the unfortunate dead, in all four of the mass graves.
Another disturbing fact about this sacrificial pit is that it was found that those that were killed were not captives taken from outlying regions, as many archaeologists had believed, but residents of the community that killed them. Also the vast collection of data from the mound excavation included reports from the original archaeologist who found finger bones extended deep into the sand below some of the skeletons, evidence that victims were alive when buried.
The mystery still remains as to why these people sacrificed their own, and in such a sinister way.
source western digs
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