Discovering Cahokia's Religion at Emerald Mounds

This listing expired on April 30, 2014. Please contact for any updated information.

Excavation crew at Emerald in 2012
LiDAR image of Emerald site showing lunar alignments, courtesy Illinois State Archaeological SurveyProfile mapping a deep post pit at Emerald
Happy screeners at the Emerald site, 2012A Cahokia projectile point on the surface of the Emerald site

Location: Lebanon, Illinois, United States

Season Dates: June 2, 2014 - July 29, 2014
Session Dates: June 2-June 30, June 30-July 29
Application Deadline: March 31, 2014



Program Type
Field school

Affiliation: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Project Director: Timothy R. Pauketat, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois

Project Description

Nine hundred years ago, a Native American city was built at Cahokia, opposite St. Louis, Missouri. This was ancient North America’s Big Bang. At the same time, a series of religious shrines were built in the Illinois prairie east of the city. The principal shrine was connected to the city via a 24-km-long road. Why? The Cahokians appear to have been processing to and from the shrine periodically in conjunction with their observations of infrequent lunar events, apparently maintaining a series of temples, council houses, and medicine lodges. In effect, they were building a religion based on the long cycle of the moon! As an integral part of this unique urbanizing experiment, Cahokian religion changed American Indian history forever.

JOIN US! This year, a University of Illinois crew and field school will join Indiana University to conduct large-scale excavations of a key portion of this hilltop lunar observatory as part of a scientific research expedition. Our project seeks to discover temples, religious rituals, priests, and pilgrims in a large excavation block immediately adjacent to the site's principal 6-meter-high earthen platform. Students will locate, map, and excavate previously located 900-year-old features, including houses and storage pits, learning technical skills necessary to become a professional archaeologist. Geophysical investigations of one portion of the large complex are planned as well. The field school focus is on providing superior training in standard archaeological techniques and contextual interpretations. 

SOME DETAILS: The DCR field school runs for 8 weeks with a short July 4th break. Students must register for both Anth 454 and 455, a total of 6 credit hours. There are no course texts, but there are weekly readings, lectures, and after hours lab activities. There will be a series of field trips and one weekend camping trip to the St. Francois Mountains in Missouri. Plan on bringing bedding, dishware and a chair along with a sleeping bag and tent for the camping trip! Students will be responsible for paying for their own food and transportation, but carpooling and communal evening meals are planned (ca. $10/wk).

Period(s) of Occupation: Mississippian

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 4 weeks

Minimum Age: 19

Experience Required: None

Room and Board Arrangements

We will be living in unfurnished apartments with laundry service at the edge of the quaint farming town of Lebanon, Illinois (population, 5600). Housing arrangements are made by the project once total enrollment is known. Mailing addresses will be available upon arrival in June. The Emerald site is a short 10 minute car ride from our apartments. The costs of apartment rental is covered by a $500 non-refundable fee (in addition to the cost of University tuition). Once accepted, all participants pay the fee in advance via personal check made out to the “University of Illinois” and delivered to Julia Spitz, 109 Davenport Hall, MC-148, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801.

Cost: $500 for summer

Academic Credit
Name of institution offering credit: University of Illinois
Number of credits offered: 6
Tuition: $3000

Contact Information
Timothy R Pauketat
109 Davenport Hall, MC-148, University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois 61801
United States
Phone: 217-244-8818
Fax: 217-244-3490

Recommended Bibliography

Pauketat, T.

2013      An Archaeology of the Cosmos: Rethinking Agency and Religion in Ancient America. Routledge, London.

2009      Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi. Viking-Penguin Press, New York (paperback, 2010).

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