Spring is coming on Monday, March 20, 2017 at 6:29 a.m. EDT. But the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois aren’t waiting until then to commemorate the vernal equinox: The state park will host a sunrise service on Sunday March 19 to mark the advent of rebirth across Turtle Island.
Back when Paris and London were thought to be the center of the world, and long before Europeans ever conceived of these shores, Cahokia in 1250 was a city easily as populous as the British capital. Lying in the floodplain that is the meeting ground for the Missouri and Mississippi rivers near St. Louis, Cahokia was centered around Monks Mound, which eclipsed the pyramids at Giza and rivaled that of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Indeed, the city was the “largest pre-Columbian archaeological site north of Mexico; it is also the earliest of the large Mississippian settlements,” says UNESCO in its World Heritage website description. “It is the pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic center of the prehistoric Mississippian cultural tradition.”
People started settling in the area as far back as 700 A.D., with Cahokia gradually developing into an urban center whose heyday fell between 1100 and 1200, according to Cahokiamounds.org. By the late 1300s it had been abandoned entirely. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, it had already been on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 1966.
Woodhenge, a calendar of posts that line up with the rising sun at certain times of the year, is where the equinox event will be. Events there coincide with both the spring and fall equinoxes, as well as the two solstices. There were several such calendars at Cahokia, and they were key to agricultural planning.
“The most spectacular sunrise occurs at the equinoxes, when the sun rises due east,” reported Indian Country Media Network. “The post marking these sunrises aligns with the front of Monks Mound, where the leader resided, and it looks as though Monks Mound gives birth to the sun.”