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Vernal Equinox, Woodhenge
Photo Copyright © 2005 Elizabeth A. Kassly.
All rights reserved

Cahokia – the City of the Sun

Woodhenge and the spring equinox

By Elizabeth A. Kassly

Come with me and go back to another time ... we'll visit a place just a few short miles north of where I live. A special place when visited in the early fog of morning ... imparts a flavor of 'moonglow under water'. A place where just a mere 800 years ago the Ancient Elite stood atop the largest man-made earthen mound in North America – Monks Mound – and looked down upon the city of the prehistoric Indian people. The time is 1200 A.D. A time and lifestyle unthinkable to most modern humans who live largely in an artificial environment with little or no contact with the natural world.

Woodhenge and the Equinox

Sunrise over Woodhenge
Photo Copyright © 2005 Elizabeth A. Kassly.
All rights reserved

Who were these prehistoric people who learned to manipulate their world and survive with only the necessities about them? Who were these people who could tell the turning of the seasons by evenly spaced upright cedar poles arranged in a circle and used like a calender? This special place was called Woodhenge and it's located in Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, Illinois. (see Mississippians)

It was the time of celebration and of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox*. When the earth awakens anew from its long cold sleep. When green leafy plants and planted crops emerged from the sun-warmed earth and once again grew to feed and nourish the people who depended on this blazing symbol of life.

But it was also the time of traders... when travelers came from the north, south, east and west. A time of rendevous with festivities and games, food and drink, and stories.

Who were these people who built their earthen structures to the sky? We are learning how they lived and interacted with others. Their stories are in the artifacts and stones and in the profiles of dirt and the bones that they left behind.

Can you still hear these ancient people as they chant a strange melody to the sky? First one voice...then many join in. Singing and playing drums and flutes to the early morning sun...they smile.. as the sun seems to be lifted from its crimson cover of clouds and fog... warming everyone ...who stands in its path.

Woodhenge (roughly similar in design to Stonehenge in England) was first constructed around 1100 AD followed by five more successive sun calenders at Cahokia. They were structures used for determining the seasons and scheduling the ceremonial activities that followed. Viewed from the center of the circle the alignments of the wooden posts marked the different times of the year.

Viewer at Woodhenge
Photo Copyright © 2005 Elizabeth A. Kassly.
All rights reserved

March 2005 Equinox celebration

This year the Central States Artifact Show will be held the week before the solstice celebration, on the 12th and 13th of March at the Collinsville Convention Center.

Come visit our spring Equinox celebration (just a quarter mile west of Monk's Mound) at sunrise (5:45 am) on Sunday, March 20th, 2005. Find out about the prehistoric Indians who once lived in this ancient city that we call Cahokia. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located in southern Illinois just a few miles west of Collinsville, Illinois...these remnants of 69 earthen mounds sit in the Mississippi river floodplain south of Interstate 55/70 on a 2,200 acre World Heritage site...thereby preserving the largest man made prehistoric Indian city north of Mexico.

And be sure and visit our museum – an informative world class interpretive center. In the gift shop you'll find hand-crafted items made by modern day American Indians. And don't miss our website (open 24/7) at, which includes a map of how to reach the site.

About the Author

Elizabeth A Kassly is from Swansea, Illinois. She combines her own deep personal appreciation for ancient peoples through her life study of archaeology. Since 1973, she has gained priceless knowledge and insight into the life of early man. Prehistory speaks to us...we must learn how to listen ...


Monk's Mound by daylight
Photo by Jim Jung. All rights reserved

Monk's Mound is the largest man made earthen structure in America north of Mexico. This huge earthwork with its four tiered platforms was built in many stages by laborers carrying basket loads of dirt over a 300 year period. It stands 100 feet high, its base covers more than 14 acres and it contains about 22 million cubic feet of earth. Click here for three views of Monk's Mound.

* - The word equinox originates from the Latin word Aequinoctum literally: equal night/equal day. It is the point in earth's orbit where the equatorial day and night are of equal length and occurs twice each year. The Vernal Equinox (from the Latin Vernus = Spring) marks the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere.

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Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth A. Kassly. All Rights Reserved.