THE STOCKADE

 

The stockade is one of the principal attractions of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, and only one of thethings about Cahokia on which theories and assumptions diverge. This enormous two-mile-long palisade, which was discovered in excavations in 1966, is described as "encircling the most important sacred area of Cahokia which includes Monk's Mound, the plaza to the south and several smaller mound groups". Scientists assume this wall to have been started in the time between 900 BP and A.D. 1100 and largely completed by about 1150, although additions were made up to 1250.

 

The palisade was built from foot-thick trunks of 20,000 oak and hickory trees and measured about two miles, with a height of ten to 12 feet tall and watch towers placed approximately every seventy feet. (Here, again, numbers vary to a large extent. http://www.archaeology.org/9805/newsbriefs/cahokia.html even speaks of a height of 100 feet.) “The stockade walls may have been covered with clay, as well, to protect them from fire and moisture.” (http://medicine.wustl.edu/~mckinney/cahokia/stockade.html 19.07.2001)

Within the next 200 years the stockade was rebuilt three times, “each time at a cost of 20,000 trees and 130,000 work-hours. Cahokia's forests were being exhausted and so, too, were its people.” (Lewis Lord in http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/990816/cahokia.htm 19.07.2001)

Its purpose is not exactly known and in general, there are two possible explanations. One of them is that that it functioned as a social barrier, a separation between the most sacred, holy area, a 200-acre Sacred Precinct where the ruling elite lived and were buried, and the rest of the settlement. “Such enclosures are common features of religious architecture and in general are used to delimit areas of sacred space.” (http://www.smcm.edu/academics/aldiv/art/webcourses/arth100/anchoring/cahokia/anchoring.htm  20.07.2001)

However, most scientists believe - or at least most of the articles make us believe that this is the generally accepted theory - that it served primarily as a defensive structure and there are several reasons to regard this as the more plausible explanation:

the great height of the wall; the presence of evenly spaced bastions, projections from which archers could shoot arrows; and evidence that portions of the wall were hurriedly built, cutting through residential areas, as if danger was imminent. (http://medicine.wustl.edu/~mckinney/cahokia/stockade.html 19.07.2001)

 

But since there is no evidence of invasion at Cahokia, some people question the purpose of the Stockade as such. Or they find themselves asking questions which lead us to the first mentioned assumption, namely that Cahokia was not that much of a Garden Eden as most people want to make us believe. In fact, there is a high chance that this stockade, indeed, may have functioned as a social barrier. Some of the articles studied point that out by referring to the Cahokian way of living (Lifestyle).

In any way, some of the articles do not refrain from asking questions which may let us spend a second thought about either of the theories. River Web, for instance, argues the following way:

The most reasonable interpretation of the wall which once ringed Cahokia seems to be that it represents a defensive fortification, particularly given the occurrence of similar, albeit smaller, structures at other Mississippian sites. Nevertheless, it has also been suggested that the wall was not strictly a defensive structure, but was intended to demarcate the central, most religious and elite part of central Cahokia. Why a wall intended to create a social barrier around the center of Cahokia would also have bastions is unclear. (http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/RiverWeb/Projects/Ambot/prehistory/mississippian/top.html 09.10.2001)

 

No matter whether the stockade funtioned as a social barrier or was meant as a defensive structure, several of the articles point out that other evidence strenghtens the assumption that violence existed in Cahokia (HISTORY.htm):

 

Though rich soil may have been plentiful in the Mississippi Valley, prehistoric people still competed for the best land, induced, perhaps, by their ever-increasing numbers. War seems to have become a more frequent means of enforcing political control as time went on. Villages were enclosed in wooden palisade walls, and the study of artifacts shows an increase in martial symbolism. Signs of violence on human remains underscore this development. (http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/RiverWeb/Projects/Ambot/prehistory/mississippian/top.html 09.10.2001)

 

Of particular note are the following:

1.     The wall cut through the heart of a residential area.

2.     Bastions were regularly spaced along the wall.

3.     Wall construction consisted of digging a trench, placing large logs vertically in the trench, lashing the timbers together, and finally burying the logs base.

(http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/RiverWeb/Projects/Ambot/prehistory/mississippian/top.html 09.10.2001)