ILLINOIS TRAILS HISTORY AND GENEALOGY
PREHISTORIC ILLINOIS
THE GREAT CAHOKIA MOUND

Taken from the Journal of the State Historical Society, January 1914, Volume 6, #4

Typed and Donated by ©Susan Cook




OLD STONE-LINED GRAVE FOUND AT MONK'S MOUND

Discovery by owner proves prehistoric race was familiar with cutting of rock.





T. T. Ramey, of Edwardsville (Madison County, IL), one of the owners of Monk's Mound, southwest of Edwardsville (now locate in Collinsville), recently told for the first time of the most perfect grave which has been opened in the vicinity.  Monk's Mound is the center of a group of a hundred smaller mounds, and is believed to have once been the home or place of worship of a race which passed from existence and left no records.

Unlike all other graves,the tomb was entirely lined with flagstones from 1 to 4 inches thick.  This disproves the theory that the race was unfamiliar with stone cutting.  The discovery caused curiosity to open a small mound west of the big one.

The explorations were made several days ago.  The grave was only 3 feet deep.  It was 20 inches wide and 6 feet long, and from all indications three or possibly four bodies were buried.  In opening the grave it was carefully studied.  The bodies were buried exactly north and south, the same position of the oblong mounds.

This discovery has considerable importance from a chronological point of view.  Of the Indian tribes occupying the American Bottom in primitive times, the two longest in possession of that region are vaguely known to us by the relics of their arts and customs occasionally found, or still conspicuous, there.  The one were the people who built the great mounds in that locality that have so long excited the wonder and interest of antiquarians; and the other, not in the category of mound-builders, distinguished by the peculiar mode of burying their dead in stone-lined cists.  While both were essentially Indians of the same generic type, advancing in the culture by slow stages to a higher state, it is certain they differed broadly in many characteristics and methods of life.

They were both semi-sedentary residents there for long periods, depending for subsistence more upon the products of agriculture than of the chase.  In their stone implements, pottery and domestic utensils; of equal artistic and mechanical excellence; there are well marked features of dissimilarity, and craniologists have noted a difference in the general conformation of their skulls.  But to us, at this late day, the most convincing evidence of their separate identity is seen in the manner of disposing of their dead by the one tribe, and the absence of that mortuary custom by the other.  Those burying their dead in  the ground in stone-lined graves have been named by archaeologists the Stone grave Indians.  Their populous and long established home was in the valleys of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, where their extension cemeteries, containing thousands of stone-lined cists, have been discovered and explored.

They were not "familiar with cutting of rock," and had not discovered the use of metals, or attained instruments of any kind capable of cutting rock.  They employed for the lining and covering of their graves, the thin laminiferous flagstones, in the natural state, found in abundance in various localities.  The only tool mark discernible on those flagstones was that of the stone hammer.  Yet, many of them, shaped by that means, were so neatly fitted and adjusted together as to present the appearance of having been cut, or ground, to conform to each other.  Many of the graves were paved on the bottom with large mussel shells, or potsherds, and in many the sides and ends were skillfully lined with closely-fitted fragments of large pottery vessels.  Each one was covered with rough broad flagstones.

Tracing the migrations of their colonies by their tribal custom of inhumation, it is known that large bands of them, emerging from middle Tennessee, crossed the Ohio into southern Indiana; then moving westward into southern Illinois, abided for a long time about the saline springs there, and mined vast areas of the chert beds in Alexander and Union counties.  Following the Mississippi northward, they settled in the central part of the American Bottom, where numerous clusters of their stone-lined graves attest quite a protracted period of undisturbed occupancy.  From there they passed westward beyond the Mississippi.

The builders of the huge earthworks in the American Bottom were Indians of other ethnic derivation, with widely different customs, and perhaps ranking higher in the scale of progress towards civilization.  In what manner they disposed of their dead is still unknown.  No cemeteries, and very few isolated graves certainly identified as theirs, have yet been discovered.  Their custom in this respect may have been that of certain other North American Indians, in periodically gathering from the prairie and tree scaffolds, the desiccated bodies of their deceased kinsmen, and cremating them with barbaric ceremonies. Possibly future exploration of the smaller mounds in the Cahokia district may yet solve the problem of their mortuary usages.

With the knowledge we have of Indian life, it is not to be supposed that the tenancy of that splendid territory by the two early tribes mentioned was contemporaneous; and, with the limited reliable data available, the question of priority in possession has always been one difficult to determine.  Upon this point the discovery of that stone-lined grave, above quoted, is valuable and almost conclusive.  The description of the grave by mr. Ramey leaves no room to doubt that it was made there by the only tribe of prehistoric times in the Mississippi basin, that invariably buried their dead in that way, and in consequence designated the Stone Grave Indians.  Solitary graves of that kind, sometimes groups of two or three of them, have been found scattered over the country as far north as the Sangamon River, presumably grim mementos of casualties among those people during hunting expeditions.  The fact that this cist, but three feet deep, was in the surface of an artificial mound proves it to have been an intrusive burial, of course, of much later date than the mound itself, and, inferentially, made there after all the mounds had been abandoned; which gives strong support to the view that the Stone Grave immigrants did not arrive in the American Bottom until long after the builders of the great temple mounds there had run their course and disappeared.

....Dr. J. F. SNYDER
Virginia, Ills.



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