Arcanum 1780: A New World
Cahokia – the lost city of mounds
At the far western edge of the lands of the Haudenosaunee Protectorate lies the mysterious mounds of Cahokia, a great abandoned city of mounds that holds the secrets of a lost civilization.
Through the wonders of pararchaeology, many secrets have been learned, though even more remain. It is known that the Cahokia tribe had nothing to do with the city itself, beyond guiding the first Europeans to the site, but what the city or it’s people were actually called is unknown. It is known that the city was abandoned in the 1400’s, but not why – though theories ran from plague, over-use of the areas resources or even political collapse. It is also known that no tribes lived in an area of close proximity to the site after it was abandoned.
At the height of it’s power, Cahokia was a vast trade capital with a walled border, hundreds of mounds of various size and function (the tallest has a 14 acre base and towers 100 feet above the ground below), a huge athletic field and a Stonehenge-like circle of wooden poles fitted into sculpted sockets used to measure the sun passage – pararchaeologists have dubbed this wonder “Woodhenge”. The ruins of Cahokia show signs of advanced mathematics and amazing feats of engineering far beyond their time, the metalworks smelted several types of ore into various alloys and produced artifacts of amazing quality. All told, between the city proper and outlaying villages, Cahokia held a population of 40,000, a size unrivaled in North America until recently. Even today only three cities in New Britain – Philadelphia, New York and Boston – are larger.
Other than their fondness for bird and birdman motifs, the only thing known of the religion of the people of Cahokia is that it involved human sacrifice. A lot of it and in many different forms. A great mound known to pararchaeologists as Mound 72 appears to be a place of sacrifice, excavation shows that it was not built as a single mound, but several smaller mounds that were added on and combined over a period of several hundred years. Bodies of young men are buried in one sub-mound with signs of very ritualistic injuries, their hands and hands buried in another sub-mound. Another sub-mound has a grave of 40 women, all believed to be 21 years of age at the time of death, with a single piercing injury to the heart and buried layered on mats of finely embroidered wicker. The most gruesome site is a mass grave of some 40 men and women, at least a quarter of whom show signs of being buried alive within the mound. At the crown of this great mound is the grave of a man believed to be a great chief or war hero – dubbed The Falcon Warrior, the man is a well muscled man in his early forties, he was buried on a bed of more than 20,000 marine-shell disc beads arranged in the shape of a falcon, with the bird’s head appearing beneath and beside the man’s head, and its wings and tail beneath his arms and legs.
Despite the great cultural and scientific importance of the site, exploration and excavation is at a standstill. Technically part of the Haudenosaunee Protectorate – though just barely, the British have little claim over the area, and it’s a long trek through rough land for an expedition – it is still nearly 600 miles from Detroit. The invention of the skyship has made the trip a little more feasible, but since the rebirth of magic and advances it allowed in modern science, every expedition allowed to Cahokia has ended in mysterious disaster, leading to rumors of a curse. Those in-tune with the forces of magic report a sense of incredible power coming from the site, but also a pervasive and unexplainable sense of dread. Encounters with Spirits here are more frequent than any known place, and the personal shaman to the Grand Elder of the Haudenosaunee Protectorate highly urges the place being avoided.
Still, the lure of treasure and adventure insures that a few reckless expeditions set out for Cahokia every year, and their end boosts the reputation of the curse.