Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Lost City of Cahokia, Part 2: The Copper Workshop

Copper Ornaments made at Cahokia
found at Wulfing, Etowah, and Sprio sites
Last week, we were introduced to the forgotten city of Cahokia, near St. Louis, the largest Native American city in North America.  It flourished around 1300 A. D.  Since the buildings and structures were built of wood, only the enormous mounds that the structures were built on, and the round burial mounds remain.
Cahokia was clearly the center for trade east of the Mississippi river and was probably the center of power during its heyday.  It was also the center for the manufacture of copper goods.  Although Mound 34 had been discovered in 1950 by archaeologist Greg Perino, the work done from 2002 to 2010 has revealed that it was the site of a one-of-a-kind copper workshop.

Copper Ear Spools made at Cahokia
"It's the only one (copper workshop) that's been discovered," said James A. Brown, professor of archaeology at Northwestern University in Chicago.  Brown said that the copper workshop was purely for religious purposes, to produce ornaments for those who participated in significant ceremonies that probably occurred atop the mounds. "They are all depictions of other worldly beings," he said of the symbols and figures found in copper as well as on pieces of pottery and decorated shells.
The remains of three large tree stumps suggest that three anvil stones were once used.  Analysis of copper found at the site shows that the process of “annealing” was used.  This is a sophisticated process whereby the metal is heated and cooled to make it more malleable, similar to how blacksmiths work iron.  The artisans that worked in the workshops produced religious masks, earrings, and jewelry that were traded to other villages and cities throughout North America.   For instance, some copper plates at the Wulfing cache from southeastern Missouri, Etowah plates from Georgia, and many of the Spiro plates from Oklahoma are thought to have been made in Cahokia.
Copper headdress ornaments made at Cahokia

Link to Cahokia Part 1

Link to  Videos on Cahokia

-- Courtney Miller

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