A Walled City
The central ceremonial precinct of Cahokia was enclosed by a defensive wall, the Stockade (or Palisade). It was built of upright logs placed in 4-5 foot deep trenches and probably stood 10-15 feet high above the ground. It would take an estimated 15-20,000 logs to build this wall that was nearly two miles long. At regular intervals (about 85 feet, center-to-center) were bastions, guard towers with raised platforms for warriors to protect the front of the wall. L-shaped entryways were occasionally placed between bastions.
?????The Stockade would also serve a social function. The wall enclosed an area of nearly 200 acres, including Monks Mound and 17 other mounds. Those living inside the sacred precinct were somehow different from those living outside, possibly related to the ruling elite. However, it is likely that all citizens would be allowed inside for festivals and ceremonies, or to help defend, if needed. It is not known if the enemy were local or from distant areas, or if the site was ever attacked.
?????The wood does not survive, but archaeologists can see dark linear stains in the soil marking where the trenches had been dug into the lighter subsoils. Four constructions of wall are evident, often overlapping each other, with the size and shape of the bastions changing each time.
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Woodpecker head designs from the stone Ramey tablet from Cahokia
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A stockade built 800 years earlier still leaves surface traces. Although not visible from the ground, they can be seen from the air as this 1922 photograph reveals. Discovered decades later, the light streak enabled archaeologists to begin digging right over the ancient stockade in 1966.
Photo courtesy of the Illinois State Museum
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Map of the stockade excavations in this part of the site, showing the four constructions of the walls and their associated bastions and gates.
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As shown in these illustrations, the wall was rebuilt several times between AD 1150 to 1250. A new wall replaced an old decaying one. Spaced at 85 foot intervals were defensive towers, called bastions, from which bow and arrow combat could be effectively waged, and L-shaped entryways could be guarded. With each new construction, the spacing between bastions became more precise, indicating standard unit of measure had been developed.