Cahokia Mounds worth the visit — even if it's virtual
COLLINSVILLE — You should see the real thing in person, but new digital projects can help you explore Cahokia Mounds in the digital world.
There were tens of thousands of American Indians in a lost civilization on both sides of the Mississippi, centering on Collinsville, which is 165 miles southwest of Champaign.
You can interact with their virtual life in "Mark of the Mississippians," the first in a three-volume interactive e-book series about North America's past, now available for iPad users.
The new interactive book examines four Mississippian culture centers: Cahokia; Moundville, Ala.; Etowah, Ga.; and Spiro, Okla.
It's published by the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, in part through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"Mark of the Mississippians" is available through the iBookstore application or iTunes at http://tinyurl.com/MarkOfTheMississippians for $14.99. Former school administrator Elizabeth Schwartz worked with her husband, William J. Schwartz, who serves as a writer and director.
"We submitted a grant for that combo video app and tour of four major sites, and we interviewed 16 archaeologists," including experts from the Prairie Research Institute affiliated with the University of Illlinois," Elizabeth Schwartz said. "We had great cooperation, with 22 museums allowing us to use their images."
The Schwartzes also created an award-winning free multi-platform program for students ages 8-12, which can be seen at http://www.projectarchaeo.com/. The Web components include online investigations, simulated digs, streaming video, interactive quizzes with virtual awards and ongoing participatory projects.
William Iseminger, the assistant site manager at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, has worked there for four decades and has written books about archaeology as well as making paintings.
He said an updatable interactive site is perfect for Cahokia, which uncovers new finds every year.
Traces of the lost society are still found in St. Louis, where the mounds were used as fill for the city's growth.
But the vast majority of discoveries are on the Illinois side.
"In East St. Louis, with the new bridge project, we are finding mound bases still intact beneath the city," Iseminger says. "There are 1,500 (American Indian) houses in the right of way of that highway."
In the e-book, 3-D graphics and infor-mative pop-ups enrich the learning experience. Mississippian arrowhead icons serve as links to scholarly articles and papers.
Viewers can access more than 60 videos available for streaming, Schwartz said.
Cahokia Mounds preserves 68 of the original 120 earthen mounds built by Native Americans, including the 100-foot-tall Monks Mound.
"Children run up and down that hill without fully realizing the significance of this complex culture," Schwartz said.
Other site features include a reconstructed stockade wall and "Woodhenge," which divides the seasons.
And, of course, the site includes an interpretive center across the street from Monks Mound.
If you go
What: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
When: Interpretive center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May through October (grounds are open 8 a.m. to dusk).
Where: 30 Ramey St., Collinsville (about 10 miles east of St. Louis)
Admission: Free; donations of $2 to $15 suggested
Of note: Sept. 14 is a cultural day in which American Indians show off their cultures and customs (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will also be demonstrations of the atlatl, a throwing weapon demonstrated by the Missouri Atlatl Association)
More information: 618-346-5164 http://www.illinoishistory.gov/hs/cahokia_mounds.htm