Development Threatens Ancient Suburb in St. Louis

Excavating in East St. Louis in advance of an approaching freeway and future development, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a sophisticated American Indian settlement nearly a thousand years old that "no one knew existed."
June 4, 2012, 10am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Véronique LaCapra reports on the surprising settlement uncovered by Joe Galloy, with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, and his team located five miles from the ancient city of Cahokia, once the largest American Indian city north of Mexico, and considered the greatest achievement of Mississippian culture.

"One of the things that I imagine an ancient visitor to this site would have experienced was kind of a sense of awe and wonder," Galloy says. "There would be fires and things like that. People cooking stuff - all sorts of activity. And you'd see this huge village. And it was probably a very impressive site, one of the largest settlements that people had seen if they hadn't been around this area before."

Scientists, including University of Illinois anthropologist Tim Pauketat, worry that the construction of a new bridge across the Mississippi River threatens the future of site. "By the time the East St. Louis dig wraps up later this year, only about a tenth of the ancient settlement will have been excavated. He [Pauketat] says once the new Mississippi River bridge is finished, the other 90 percent, which is still buried under private land, could be destroyed.

"Because East St. Louis is right across from St. Louis, it's prime land for any kind of commercial development," he says.

"Pauketat and a number of other archaeologists are trying to get the federal government to buy the land around the dig site."

Thanks to Daniel Lippman

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Published on Saturday, June 2, 2012 in NPR
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