Athena's Web Weekly Column
Week of Jun 3rd - Jun 9th, 2005
The Stars of Ohio
While driving with my son Andy across country towards a rendezvous with a planetarium show we would be offering in Boulder, we took the time to explore the Ohio River Valley and some of the archaeological sites found there. We visited five on the first day, two on the second, and then traveled on to Cahokia outside of St Louis as our final stop in the Midwest. Each of these sites were constructed by the Native American Mound Builders, more precisely described as the Adena, Hopewell and Mississippian cultures. The Adena ran from about 1000 BC down to the common era, the Hopewell from 100 BC to 400 AD, and the Mississippian from about 400 AD until approximately 1300 AD.
The mounds were made by individuals digging and filling baskets of earth, then carrying and dumping them onto the mound in question. Many mounds were built in stages with the level rising over time. Some are conical in shape, some flat topped, while still others seem to have been created in the form of an animal or bird. In the case of Monk's Mound, it has been approximated that 14,666,666 baskets of earth, with each basket carrying 15 cubic feet of dirt were required to construct the 22,000,000 cubic feet needed to complete this, the largest mound in North America. From its top, the entire 360º horizon of the Mississippi River Valley can be seen, with St Louis and its arch visible in the not-too-distant background.
As time marches on, the notion that a number of these sites may have had astronomical overtones is gaining momentum. Alignments with the Sun, Moon and even the stars are coming under greater scrutiny and review. Andy and I spent four hours with the director of the site at Cahokia, who spoke of five different sets of circular arrangements of posts (sequential in time, not concurrent sets) which were probably used to observe heavenly motion. Not surprisingly, collectively these have been dubbed 'Woodhenge, I-V'. Based upon this notion, some post hole positions were predicted and then located in other parts of the site based upon these astronomical considerations.