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Kevin Killeen’s Whole ‘nother Story — Digging Up Dirt on a Lost City

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digging up ancient city near East St. Louis

digging up ancient city near East St. Louis

Today, Kevin takes a trip to the east side in search of the past…

EAST ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–In the path of a future highway that will move thousands to and from their jobs in office cubicles, archaeologists are digging up remnants of what they believe is a thousand-year old city.

“Most of the things that we unearth literally haven’t been touched for upwards of a thousand years,” said Site Manger Patrick Durst with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey.

Durst is supervising a team of 60 to 90 archaeologists who have been digging the past few years on a site in the path of the new Interstate 70 Mississippi bridge project.

“This area at one time held several factories, manufacturing plants and buildings associated with the national stockyards,” Durst said.

Scraping off the topsoil several feet down, the team has reached a level they believe was populated by some 3,500 Native Americans between 900 and 1200 A.D..

“We do find arrow points, stone ax fragments, whole stone axes, figurines,” Durst said.

The site along the Mississippi River is just a few miles from the world famous Cahokia Mound historic site, which was believed to be teeming with inhabitants during the same time period.

“One of our theories is this site itself is closer to the river than Cahokia itself,” Durst said, “In order to travel through the river ways and access Cahokia, you had to pass through this area.  So, potentially, this is a gateway to Cahokia, where maybe more of the trade is happening here.”

Evidence of trade found at the site includes gulf sea shells and galena stone jewelery bits.  Workers are also excavating deep pits that may have supported the foundation for a large watch tower or signal tower that would have been visible to the river traffic.  Also found, figurines of female idols and warrior shaped idols.

The team has yet to firmly establish whether people living in the settlement were independent of Cahokia or just a “suburb” of the larger mound city.

The entire population appears to have withdrawn or died out prior to European settlers arriving.  What happened remains a mystery.

The digging was continuing this week amid an unseasonal warm snap, but work is expected to stop for the winter and move indoors.  More digging is planned for next spring and summer, before the highway construction will seal the site.

“We’re essentially standing in the path of what will be I-70,” Durst said, “Persons wanting to drive across the new bridge to St. Louis will essentially drive across this site,” Durst said.

Copyright KMOX

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