By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
In 1967, archaeologists discovered a thousand-year-old mass grave site in Illinois. The scene depicts one of the most extravagant acts of violence ever documented in ancient America where a total of 53 skeleton were lined from corner to corner, and this was in one grave alone.
The civilization was hierarchical, and highly centralized. Society was ruled by elites who demanded tribute from lowly peasant farmers who toiled to produce corn, among other crops which the society was highly dependent on.
A 10-foot mound called Mound 72 by modern-day archaeologists holds the remains of 272 people, many of them sacrificed. It is located at Cahokia, a city located near modern-day St. Louis that flourished from A.D. 1050 to 1200.
In the 1960s and 70s, archaeologists did not realize how many women were buried there.
The archaeology of the mound is complex, but it appears as if people were sacrificed gradually in a series of episodes. In one episode, 52 malnourished women ages 18 to 23, along with a woman in her 30s, were sacrificed at the same time.
In another episode, it appears that 39 men and women were clubbed to death. The mound also holds the remains of two individuals who were buried with 20,000 shell beads. It's possible that some, or all of the sacrifices were dedicated to the two individuals.
The victims all appeared to be women, mostly in their late teens or early 20s. Evidence suggested they were strangled, or their throats slashed, at the edge of their shared mass grave, and then interred, yards away from an ornate burial of two men thought to be clan elders, political leaders, spiritual guides, or all three.
But the women were not alone. At the other end of the mound were three more mass graves, containing another 65 skeletons between them, also apparently of females.
By the time the entire mound had been excavated, two dozen burial pits had emerged, cradling some 270 human remains, each betraying signs of various degrees of violence — from having their jaws broken to being buried alive.
Archaeologists first uncovered these mass graves while excavating the prehistoric city of Cahokia, the seat of the ancient Mississippian culture which reached its peak about 1,000 years ago.
None could tell by looking at the grassy hills outside St. Louis that this was once a crossroads for trade. The civilization held religious influence from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Mound 72, with its example of human sacrifice found north of Mexico has been extensively studied. However there are still many questions unanswered.
Why were such young women, described by experts as "unblemished", possibly virgins, killed? Was their death a status symbol to exemplify wealth, or as a way of eliminating future rivals in a matrilineal society?
But considering that most of Cahokia's farmers were women, it's not understood why they would do away with members of society, which would be thought to be vital to its survival. These were not women taken as captives as originally theorized by archaeologists, but women who lived there. In a city that at its height held 15,000 inhabitants, workers who not only produced food, but were of child bearing age is difficult to fathom.
In all four graves there were males also, but approximately 80% were women.
The mystery still remains as to why these people sacrificed their own, and in such a sinister way. Could this have been one of the reasons the city was abandoned by the early 13th century without explanation, and the inhabitants never returned?
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer