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Cahokia and Etzanoa, Pre-Contact Native American Cities

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 10 months ago


 Native American History Cross Links & Related Resources



Exploring the Early Americas, Library of Congress 


Cahokia & Etzanoa


Focus Question: "Why haven't we heard of these settlements before?"


Pronounce Cahokia


Artist's Reconstruction of Monk's Mound at Cahokia.

Link here for an Overview of Cahokia 

Cahokia, located in present-day Illinois, was the center of what anthropologists call "Mississippian culture," agricultural communities throughout the Midwestern and southeastern United States between 1000 and 1400.


Cahokia is now the largest archaeological site in the United States.



  A Video from WTVP/PBS on Cahokia Mounds



  Back to the City of the Sun: An Augmented Reality Project


What is an Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality is a piece of technology created to help show something enhanced by technology in the real world.  In this instance, visitors to the Cahokia site can use their phone cameras at specific locations and the program will show them what the Cahokia looked like in the spot they are currently standing.



For a perspective on Native American history in the Americas prior to European encounters, see Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi, Timothy R. Pauketat, Viking, 2009.


See also, The Mississippians of Cahokia, John Hendrix, New York Times, February 28, 2016




The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site has been designated a world heritage site.


  • It had a population in excess of 10,000, with at least twenty to thirty thousand more in outlying towns and farming settlements that for fifty miles in every direction (Pauketat, 2009, p. 2).
    • Located just east of present-day St. Louis, Missouri.


  • North America's largest pyramidal-mound complex. "Monks Mound is larger at its base than the Great Pyramid of Khufu, Egypt's largest ("Cahokia: America's Forgotten City," National Geographic, January, 2011, p. 138). Mounds were destroyed by the builders of St. Louis before the Civil War.
    • Monks Mound is filled with 50 million cubic feet of hand-moved dirt (Hendrix, 2016, p.13).


  • Construction has been radiocarbon dated to about 1050. The centerpiece was the size of 35 football fields, the Grand Plaza, the largest public space ever created north of Mexico.
    • At its center, a packed clay pyramid that would reach 100 feet high, surpassed only by the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan and the great pyramid at Cholula, in Mexico (Pauketat, 2009, p. 23).



Reconstructed Palisade at Cahokia
Reconstructed Palisade at Cahokia


external image Mound_72_Woodhenge_diagram_HRoe_2013.jpg


Resources to flesh out your understanding of Cahokia:

Cahokia: America's Forgotten City, National Geographic (January 2011)

A Pre-Columbian American City from History Now


New Insights into the Curious Disappearance of the Cahokia Mounds Builders, St. Louis Public Radio


  Cahokia Mounds, Illinois Adventure, WTVP on YouTube


Mississippian Culture and Aztalan, Turning Points in Wisconsin History, Wisconsin Historical Society

Diagram above shows solstice and equinox sunset

and sunrise positions at the Mound 72 Woodhenge







Short overview of the unearthing of the settlement (2021) 


Dubbed "the Great Settlement" by Spanish invaders who visited the city in its prime, Etzanoa may surpass Cahokia as the largest Native American settlement in the United States.


 Etzanoa was once settled by an estimated 20,000 Wichita people and was located in present-day Arkansas City, Kansas, near the Arkansas River. It flourished between 1450 AD and 1700 AD.



  • Etzanoa was only unearthed as recently as 2016, so concrete understandings are still developing.
  • While the presence of "the Great Settlement" was well-documented, the exact location of the settlement was unknown until discovered by anthropology professor and archaeologist Don Blakeslee in 2016. 
    • The true size of Etzanoa was not known until Blakeslee's excavation, wherein the bounds of the settlement were determined to be approximately 15 miles wide.
  • There was a military encounter between the Indigenous peoples living in Etzanoa and Spanish troops led by the conquistador Juan de Oñate in 1601 AD. Cannon fragments found at the site confirm the battle.
    • Link here for more about Juan de Oñate and his role in documenting "the Great Settlement". 




19th-century Wichita Indian village 

The sketch above depicts a 19th-century Wichita Indian village.

This is not Etzanoa, but it does give us a glimpse of the house stylings

of the Wichita people and the configuration of their settlements.



Resources to flesh out your understanding of Etzanoa:






First article released regarding the (potential) re-discovery of Etzanoa (American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 1., March 14, 2016)


Kansas Archaeologist Rediscovers Lost Native American City (NPR, May 10, 2017)


Archaeological Digs Reveal More About Lost City of Etzanoa


A 48+ minute presentation about Etzanoa delivered by Sandra Randel at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on April 5, 2019.



                                                                                                                                                 Equestrian statue of Juan de Oñate,

Alcalde, New Mexico


Note: This statue was ultimately removed in June 2020 during the BLM protests, as it was

seen as a symbol of violent colonialism and a warped celebration of the Acoma Massacre.

Oriate Monument, Alcalde, New Mexico





The Hidden Cities of North America


  • This documentary focuses not only on the hidden cities of North America but discusses why citizens today know nothing about this hidden history of the United States.


The Story of . . . Smallpox—And Other Eurasian Germs, from Guns, Germs and Steel website, PBS (2005) 





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