Incredible Ancient Archaeological Sites in the U.S.

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American history, as it is conventionally taught, skips a great deal. As far as most high school students know, the story of the United States began in the late 1400s when European explorers first established sailing routes across the Atlantic. That's a highly edited account of history, forgetting that the U.S. first had occupants more than 12,000 years ago! These millennia deserve more than a mere mention in a history textbook.

To begin to remedy this disparity, we've outlined a few of the many fascinating archaeological sites of the ancient U.S. These incredible places are focal points for a more complete history of our country.

1. Cahokia

Artist conception of the Mississippian culture Cahokia Mounds Site in Illinois.

Established as early as the year 600, Cahokia may have been the first great city of the U.S. At its height between 1050 and 1200, the city covered six square miles and was home to as many as 20,000 people! Residents took part in organized markets, religious ceremonies, and public sporting events with thousands of spectators. Cahokia was the de facto capital of the Mississippian culture, which extended across much of the central and southeastern U.S. between roughly 900 and 1400. Megafloods likely doomed the settlement, swamping the grounds and destroying the many earthen mound structures. By 1300, Cahokia was abandoned.

 

2. Wyandotte Cave


Situated on the southern tip of Indiana, Wyandotte Cave contains an expansive 9.2 miles of passageways, and it is in this labyrinthine, underground landscape that ancient people mined for a crystal called aragonite – used for ceremonial pipes and necklaces – as many as 10,000 years ago. They also fashioned stone tools from chert found inside. Evidence of their quarrying is still visible today.

 

 

3. Montezuma Castle


The Sinagua people, whose culture extended from southern Arizona to as far as San Francisco between roughly 500 and 1425, erected this incredible "prehistoric high rise apartment complex” sometime between 1100 and 1425. Featuring at least forty rooms and 4,000 square feet of floor space erected 90 feet up into a sheer limestone cliff, the "castle" is a feat of ancient engineering. It is located near Camp Verde, Arizona.

 

 

4. Cliff Palace


The largest cliff dwelling ever constructed in North America, Cliff Palace was the work of Ancestral Puebloans who dwelled in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Built and refurbished between 1190 and 1260, it housed approximately 100 people in 150 rooms. You can visit it today in Mesa Verde National Park, which holds another 600 smaller dwellings within its 52,485 acres.

 

 

 

5. Kinishba Ruins


The Kinishba Ruins, located in eastern Arizona, aren't much to look at today, but before they were weathered and wrecked they formed a 600-room great house home to as many as 1,500 people, complete with courtyards and large stages for religious ceremonies. The likely architects were members of the Mogollon culture, who inhabited the lands just south of the Ancestral Puebloans, what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona, as well as northern Mexico. Kinishba was likely constructed between 1250 and 1350.

6. Poverty Point


More than 3,000 years ago, an ancient American civilization known only as the Poverty Point culture constructed a gigantic, multi-rowed half circle of earthen mounds over a span of 910 acres near the Mississippi River flood plain in Louisiana. The purpose of the long, arched mounds is up for debate, perhaps a location for trade, or a settlement, or more likely an amphitheater-like ceremonial site. What isn't in doubt is the scale of the undertaking, which likely required moving 53 million cubic feet of soil!*

*Added 4/3

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