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Monks Mound Destruction

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  • Vincent Barrows
    During the last month, Monks Mound was subjected to a major backhoe excavation. Cahokia Mounds management did not have a permit to dig into monks mound. The
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 29, 2007
      During the last month, Monks Mound was subjected to a major backhoe excavation. Cahokia Mounds management did not have a permit to dig into monks mound. The Illinois Historic Preservation agency gave them permission to remove only the historic fill. The site director, Mark Esarey, did this on his own initiative. I saw the letters on the IAS website detailing the site management's explanation of the work on monks mound. They clained to be doing this work to reduce the risk of erosion and to correct the slumpage issue which occurred over 20 years ago. Their comments to the Illinois Archaeology Society are an indictment that they never even considered the archeology when the 30,000 cubic feet of monks mound was torn out of the mound from three separate areas. The site management explanation makes the problem apparent that they did not consider the archaeological impact that this work would have. The fact is that the mound is actually a series of ancient sacred temples stacked on top of one another that the mound may have been covered with elaborate earthen layer of colored in blue, red, white, black, grey, brown, and orange soils. The site management never mentioned the other "Rejected Possibilities" that were proposed for this work in Cahokia Archaeological Society meetings. The website also makes it clear the professional archaeological community had no idea that this work was going to be done. I served as Vice President of the Cahokia Archaeological Society for 2004-2006 and this work of digging deeply into the mound was never mentioned to the CAS. The possibility exists that it was done by accident. However, the site managment dis state in the CAS meetings they said they were looking forward to doing some "minor cosmetic work" on the mound. An elaborate earth painting or series of earth paintings covering the mound is a real possibility considering the complexity of color use in the top 10 feet of the surface of the mound. The unfortunate fact is that no floats were taken, no artifact bags lying around, or clip-boards were on site, No screening took place and the dirt was removed with track-hoe (no hand excavations going on at the time of destruction), and the dirt was piled up in multiple areas around the mound. As of August 25th, the large piles of dirt were still piled on top of monks mound but the excavations were completely filled in with loam with grass seed freshly spread on the soil that had been dumped in place by a dump truck. There was a large geotextile covering half of the newly deposited soil. After attempting to inspect the mound, I was told to stay off the mound by construction workers, who had parked their vehicles on the top of the mound. Construction and crew workers were parking vehicles on top of the smaller mounds, not to mention very large backhoes parked on the top of the mounds. According to Paula Cross, they were only supposed to remove the previous repair fill - and not impact the mound fill. But they went over a meter deep through a 50 ft wide and 50 ft long area. I calculated the volume of removed moundfill to total 30,000 cubic feet based on measurements of the piled up dirt south of the silos that are between Monks Mound and Woodhenge. The IHPA gave Bill Iseminger and Mark Esarey permission to repair the damage. The depth of the excavations may have been caused by accidental removal of too much soil. However, a contractor should know that when digging into an archaeological site, the permits must be followed exactly. After a circle of limestone slabs and cedar posts had been hit by the backhoes, Tim Pauketat, an archeology professor at the University of Illinois stopped this excavation and expressed his unhappiness with the work (according to the IAS newsflash website).
      The site management told me that "as long as its ripped wide open" then we should salvage what we can find. So they hired archaeologists to look at the profiles of the excavations for a few days. During this time, there were drawings made and measurements taken of the exposed features. However, "as long as it's ripped wide open" was illegal and should never have happened. Foremost for the reason that it is a desecration of sacred burial mounds.
      A Doctor of Geophysics with professional licenses including geology, groundwater hydrology, and geophysics, looked at the slumpage with me after it occurred in 2004. His professional opinion of the slumping situation is to improve surface drainage of the mound by installing drainage. Possible methods include installing drainage tubing around the surface of the mound to allow for stormwater runoff to be diverted away from the mound. He said also pumped wells or drainage tubing could be installed to pump the waters out of the mound in extreme situations (like landfills). The archaeological impact of this work is the foremost consideration when deciding what to do. Basic soil engineering mechanics show that the area from the bottom of the excavation to the 45 degree angle from vertical is the affected range of soil. The unsupported excavations with backhoes in monks mound subject a much greater area to the catastrophic collapse. The excavations were about 40 feet deep vertically. The 40 feet over from the top edge of the excavations falls into the angle of repose. This means that point of unstable soil caused by slippage into the mound is now located 40 feet closer to the center of the top of the mound. The recommended methods used to reduce erosion and slumpage in saturated soil includes planting a strong cover of vegetation, and installing stormwater fences with drainage tubing. These recommendations were presented to site directors before the digging into monks mound with a backhoe occurred. Digging into the mound made the problem worse because the angle of repose was ignored. The clay soil of the mound will provide a slip zone for the loam that was deposited on the mound. Also, soil profiling was done after the cuts into the mound were made by the Backhoes. The soil from the mound was not sifted by anyone and this work was done in the area of the "birdman" tablet discovery. I walked around the piled up heaps of monks mound, and quickly found 14 sherds of bright red pottery on the surface of the heaps. Some of the pottery was vivid purple or magenta and red. Preservation is defined as following the laws to protect the archaeological sites. The limestone cairn lined with cedar logs and charred remains that was hit by the backhoe is most likely a burial. The Collected Works of Gregory Perino show many examples of limestone circles, and almost without exception, these surround burials. You might want to further consider the legal problem. Before disturbing an archaeological site a contractor is required to have a permit from the state historical preservation agency. If they only had a permit to remove the historic fill, then there was a criminal violation. The contractor had to know this and Site management had to know this. Below are the links to all the photos that I have taken available on Monks Mound during the destruction. http://i243.photobucket.com/albums/ff280/Marburg72

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    • Vincent Barrows
      I would like to call your attention to the recent damage done to one our states historic treasures. In this case, the damage was done by the same people and
      Message 2 of 4 , Sep 1, 2007
        I would like to call your attention to the recent
        damage done to one our states historic treasures. In
        this case, the damage was done by the same people and
        agencies that were responsible for protecting it.

        I am referring to the recent misguided attempts to
        stabilize Monks Mound at the Cahokia Mounds State
        Historic Site. Cahokia Mounds is the center of an
        ancient Indian civilization. It contains a series of
        earthen mounds, the largest of which is Monks Mound.
        There are also hiking trails and a museum with a
        visitor’s center. Monks mound is by far the largest
        mound of the complex. It was the foundation for the
        Chief’s temple.

        Historically, Monks Mound has also been subject to
        erosion and slumping. During August 2007, an attempt
        was made to prevent further erosion and stabilize the
        structure. This involved cutting terraces into the
        sides of the mound with backhoes (see photo).
        Approximately 30,000 cubic feet of mound material was
        removed and hauled away in dump trucks.

        No attempt was made to properly excavate these
        terraces, record what was encountered or to sift the
        material that was removed. Broken pottery, cedar
        posts, and limestone blocks were encountered. Also
        encountered were distinct layers of brightly colored
        material. Quite possibly, these were brightly colored
        surfaces covering earlier mounds. These layers of
        colored soil may have included Native American
        symbols. With the destructive excavation methods used,
        we will never know.

        It should be remembered that Monks Mound is not a
        single mound of dirt on which a temple was
        constructed. Rather, it is a sequence of temples and
        royal burials built one upon the other. The mound is
        likely the best preserved record of thousands of years
        of Native American civilization.

        Hopefully the state can review the manner in which
        historic treasures are protected. Hopefully the people
        responsible for this destruction can be held
        accountable for the damage.

        For more information, see

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      • Susan
        Vince, Stan, and All, I have been away all week, leaving soon to help survey ancient sites so need to make a brief comment. Vince, I need to pass on the two
        Message 3 of 4 , Sep 4, 2007
          Vince, Stan, and All,

          I have been away all week, leaving soon to help survey ancient sites so
          need to make a brief comment. Vince, I need to pass on the two Cahokia-
          related posts to supportive others as don't want your dedicated writing
          and oftentimes solo years of voluntary work to go unheeded here at this
          site. I am scanning/pasting the letter into emails to several people,
          one to the head of Ancient Earthworks Society, Tom Solberg to hopefully
          pass on the AWS web site and Cahokia posts to that group's membership
          for possible input. Ancient earthworks and ancient waterways are highly
          interwoven subjects, certainly not off-topic. Stan, myself, Dr. James
          Scherz are affiliated with both associations, Scherz founder of Ancient
          Earthworks in Madison, WI. Most, if not all ancient earthworks were
          built near or accessed via ancient, oftentimes major intracontinental
          waterways. And, as is well known here at this site, it is along such
          waterways vast trade networks and intercontinental 'diffusion'
          activities occurred, perhaps for countless millinnea, or times prior to
          when peoples divided or boundered themselves by tribal division and the
          vast schisms associated with nation-states.

          I also passed the last two Cahokia letters on to HoChunk tribal leader
          Richie Brown, who will be speaking at the October AAAPF/Thor/MES
          Conference. I hope you, Vince, and others here who may be attending the
          conference will get a chance to talk with Richie, Jim Scherz, and each
          other. I am going to try to get a table established for information on
          Ancient Waterways Society and display of member's research/collections,
          if needed. I also hope president Tom Solberg and representatives of
          Ancient Earthworks will be attending the conference and setting up a
          group display. Some of the posts you AWS members here seem like great
          introductions to the work and insights of each of you.

          William Smith, Pam, and sometimes myself frequently pass out printouts
          of the PreColumbian Inscriptions web group where many here 'met' and a
          few of our web groups sprang from. I shall include those on our table;
          better if member Mike White could be able to attend (if you don't go to
          Peru this fall, Mike).

          I was planning on driving to the conference solo, but may offer to
          transport some of the Earthworks society members down in my 1994 not-
          air conditioned Ford if they have no other way to go. Same applies to
          Ancient Waterways members if budget-conscious ones need a ride. Dr.
          Scjerz suggests a caravan of cars and to meet somewhere central near
          the Illinois border in the event a vehicle breaks down. Anyone
          interested, please email me offline. We all plan to stay on-site at
          the conference but may go a day or two early and rent a cheap cabin
          w/optional canoe rentals on the Little Miami River at Ft. Ancient.

          Helping facilitate the Ohio side of the AAAPF conference, AWS member
          Pam Giese emailed me over the weekend that Richie and Jim will be
          speaking in Room A on Saturday at 7:30 PM on "The Bighorn Medicine
          Wheel: Tribal Migration and Long-Range Alignments". Each tends to be
          out in the field away from computer access, so I've not gotten hold of
          either personally yet. One or both fellows will also be on the Saturday
          evening panel which I am sure will go late into the evening.

          List of conference speakers once again:

          I see on a search Richie Brown is a member of the Wisconsin Tribal
          Conservation Advisory Council of the NRCS (Natural Resources
          Conservation Service). I see a listing of members/leaders of various
          Wisconsin tribal associations:


          There may be connections there to Illinois tribal groups, Vince, but
          hopefully you are affiliated with supportive persons and trival groups
          in the S. Illinois/St. Louis area near Cahokia.

          I do not believe we are just data collectors here,,,archiving mountains
          of mind-boggling data endlessly into 'bank accounts' for future
          generations who may or may not make wise use of our investments without
          our direct input. I could have said these things off-line but believe
          many of the personal, subjective insights and ideas we put into posts
          and PR activities we engage in are very much inter-related and have
          compounding, even synergic effects. Many here are alreading not only
          rewriting the erroneous old history we had long been taught, but
          actually putting your insights into direct application into action.
          Learning to re-think and live as many traveling pathcutters did when
          trading not only goods, but ideas.

          I am addressing those of you here that I feel are amongst the future
          wise elders of America, possibly future wisdom keepers who will impact
          countless persons of all walks of life in your travels along ancient
          global waters. I am not alone believing our civilization is undergoing
          great transformation, perhaps, as my cohorts call it, a global paradigm
          shift of vast proportion. Working cooperatively and lovingly, rather
          than competitively and divisively, the upcoming decades could be filled
          with great adventure rather than unheaval of the old ways that most
          persons have been comfortable with.

          Once again, just doing a bit of PR computer work with you all here at
          my bungalow along the Wisconsin River,


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