Ancient civilizations in the American Midwest

Travel Destinations — By on September 18, 2008 at 7:44 am

When one thinks of ancient civilizations in the Americas, it tends to be of those societies that left behind spectacular ruins. The Incas of Peru, the Mayans of Mexico and Central America, or even the Pueblo people of the U.S. Southwest who built the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. Not many minds conjure up images of advanced Indian civilizations in the Midwestern United States.

In fact, though, archaeologists continue to produce evidence that large societies not only inhabited this region, but also built large edifices in the form of mounds that are only now being understood and appreciated. Check out this article for an in-depth tour of some of these sites.

The earthworks left behind by the long vanished civilizations of the Midwest are harder to spot than the pueblos and kivas of Arizona and New Mexico. For a long time many of them were hidden in plain sight or dismissed as little more than heaps of soil. But the more today’s archaeologists learn about the Midwestern mounds, the more intriguing is the picture that emerges from 1,000 or more years ago: a city with thousands of people just a few miles from present-day St. Louis, a 1,348-foot earthen serpent that points to the summer solstice, artifacts made of materials that could only have arrived over lengthy trade routes.

The mound builders lived over a wide area. But on a road trip of a few days in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, you can get a sampling of their work — and, along the way, find some modern-day diversions. Start from St. Louis, which early European settlers called Mound City because of the Indian constructions that were soon flattened to build the modern city.

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