Cahokia’s emergence and decline linked to Mississippi River flooding

New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that Cahokia – the largest prehistoric settlement in the Americas north of Mexico – emerged during a period of the reduced frequency of large floods in the Mississippi River valley, and that its decline and abandonment followed the return of megafloods.

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A map showing approximate areas of various Mississippian and related cultures. Cahokia is located near the center of this map in the upper part of the Middle Mississippi area

Best known for large, man-made earthen structures, the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia was inhabited from about 600 to 1400 CE. Its emergence as a regional center can be traced to the population growth and intensified cultivation of native domesticated plants that began around 400 CE in the floodplain of the central Mississippi River. By 1050 CE, Cahokia emerged as a hierarchically organized cultural and political center in this region. By 1250, the city’s population rivaled Paris and London; at its peak in 1300, Cahokia numbered an estimated 40,000 people.

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Urban landscape

The Cahokians were advanced people who did not appear to be related to any major known Native American tribes. They were accomplished builders who erected a wide variety of structures from practical homes for everyday living to monumental public works that have maintained their grandeur for centuries.

Cahokia’s baseline transects Woodhenge, Monk’s Mound, and several other large mounds on the city’s east-west axis. The Grand Plaza is a large open plaza that spreads out to the south of Monks Mound. Researchers originally thought the flat, open terrain in this area reflected Cahokia’s location on the Mississippi’s alluvial flood plain but instead soil studies have shown that the landscape was originally undulating. In one of the earliest large-scale construction projects, the site had been expertly and deliberately leveled and filled by the city’s inhabitants. It is part of the sophisticated engineering displayed throughout the site. The Grand Plaza covered roughly 50 acres (20 ha) and measured over 1,600 ft (490 m) in length by over 900 ft (270 m) in width. It was used for large ceremonies and gatherings, as well as for ritual games, such as chunkey. Along with the Grand Plaza to the south, three other very large plazas surround Monks Mound in the cardinal directions to the east, west, and north.

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New Findings

The fate of the Cahokians and their once-impressive city has been mysterious until now.

A new study, led by Samuel Munoz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that major flood events are tied to the cultural center’s emergence and ultimately, to its decline. Munoz and his colleagues went to Horseshoe Lake, near the 6-sq-mile city’s center, and collected cores of lake mud to look for pollen and other fossils that document environmental change.

“We had these really strange layers in the core that didn’t have any pollen and they had a really odd texture. In fact, one of the students working with us called it lake butter,” Munoz said. The scientists used radiocarbon dating of plant remains and charcoal within the core to create a timeline extending back nearly 2,000 years.

In so doing, they established a record of eight major flood events at Horseshoe Lake during this time, including the fingerprint left by a known major flood in 1844. To validate the findings, the archaeologists also collected sediments from Grassy Lake, roughly 120 miles downstream from Cahokia, and found the same flood signatures.

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A modeled map of Cahokia and present-day St. Louis after the historic 1844 flood of the Mississippi River. Courtesy of Samuel Munoz

The new findings show that floods were common in the region between 300 and 600 CE. Meanwhile, the earliest evidence of more agricultural settlement appears along the higher elevation slopes at the edge of the central Mississippi River floodplain around the year 400. But by 600, when flooding diminished and the climate became more arid, archaeological evidence shows that people had moved down into the floodplain, began to increase in population, and farmed more intensively.

“While the region saw frequent flood events before 600 CE and after 1200 CE, Cahokia rose to prominence during a relatively arid and flood-free period and flourished in the years before a major flood in 1200,” the scientists said.

“We are not arguing against the role of drought in Cahokia’s decline but this presents another piece of information,” Munoz said.

“It also provides new information about the flood history of the Mississippi River, which may be useful to agencies and townships interested in reducing the exposure of current landowners and townships to flood risk,” said study senior author Prof John W. Williams of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Archaeologists Find Sunken Egyptian City

In an article written by ABC News back in June of 2001, they make mention of an ancient Egyptian city that was discovered 6.5 km off of modern Egypt’s coastline which revealed fascinating relics of Heracleion, also known as Thonis. Lets review…

The city’s ruins are located in Abu Qir Bay, originally existing near Alexandria, 2.5 km off the coast and only 10 metres underwater. According to the classical tale of Heracleion, in the fading days of the pharaohs, the city of Heracleion was the gateway to Egypt. In the 4th century BC, this was an opulent and prosperous place adorned with statues and sphinxes. It was a city of religious significance and home to the temple of Amun. It was engulfed by the sea around 1,500 years ago.

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Using magnetic wave technology, the divers found the basin of what used to be the city’s harbor and electronically surveyed and charted it, finding palaces and temples. Next to the harbor, they found 10 antique shipwrecks.

A coliseum, houses, temples and several other artifacts lay amazingly intact at the bottom of the sea, the archaeologists said. They said they found the statues on the site of what used to be the Great Temple of Herakleion.

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The cities had been known only through ancient writings, such as travelogues and comedies, until Goddio’s team announced its discovery about a year ago. They say they discovered the ruins in 1996. The writings recounted the city’s splendor and decadence, and also referred to a temple dedicated to Heracles — or, in Latin, Hercules — the legendary son of the supreme god Zeus, from whose name the city appears to have taken its name.

The writings put the founding of the city more than 2,300 years ago, before ancient Alexandria was founded in 331 B.C.

What could have caused this sacred city to plunge into the sea? Could this be another example of an antediluvian city wiped out by an ancient cataclysm?

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Searching for Doggerland

Doggerland:

Was an area of land, now lying beneath the southern North Sea, that connected Great Britain to mainland Europe during and after the last Ice Age. It was then gradually flooded by rising sea levels around 6,500 or 6,200 BC. Geological surveys have suggested that it stretched from Britain’s east coast to the Netherlands and the western coasts of Germany and the Danish peninsula of Jutland.

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Art by Alexander Maleev

When signs of a lost world at the bottom of the North Sea first began to appear, no one wanted to believe them. The evidence started to surface a century and a half ago, when fishermen along the Dutch coast widely adopted a technique called beam trawling. They dragged weighted nets across the seafloor and hoisted them up full of sole, plaice, and other bottom fish. But sometimes an enormous tusk would spill out and clatter onto the deck, or the remains of an aurochs, woolly rhino, or other extinct beast. The fishermen were disturbed by these hints that things were not always as they are. What they could not explain, they threw back into the sea.

The story of that vanished land begins with the waning of the ice. Eighteen thousand years ago, the seas around northern Europe were some 400 feet lower than today. Britain was not an island but the uninhabited northwest corner of Europe, and between it and the rest of the continent stretched frozen tundra. As the world warmed and the ice receded, deer, aurochs, and wild boar headed northward and westward. The hunters followed. Coming off the uplands of what is now continental Europe, they found themselves in a vast, low-lying plain.

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Map showing hypothetical extent of Doggerland (c. 8,000 BC), which provided a land bridge between Great Britain and continental Europe

Archaeologists call that vanished plain Doggerland, after the North Sea sandbank and occasional shipping hazard Dogger Bank. Once thought of as a largely uninhabited land bridge between modern-day continental Europe and Britain—a place on the way to somewhere else—Doggerland is now believed to have been settled by Mesolithic people, probably in large numbers, until they were forced out of it thousands of years later by the relentlessly rising sea. A period of climatic and social upheaval ensued until, by the end of the Mesolithic, Europe had lost a substantial portion of its landmass and looked much as it does today.

Many have come to see Doggerland as the key to understanding the Mesolithic in northern Europe, and the Mesolithic, in turn, as a period that holds lessons for us—living as we are through another period of climate change. Thanks to a team of landscape archaeologists at the University of Birmingham led by Vince Gaffney, we now have a good idea of what this lost country looked like. Based on seismic survey data gathered mostly by oil companies prospecting under the North Sea, Gaffney and his colleagues have digitally reconstructed nearly 18,000 square miles of the submerged landscape—an area larger than the Netherlands.

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The red line marks Dogger Bank, which is most likely a moraine formed in the Pleistocene

Some 8,200 years ago, after millennia of incrementally rising seas, a massive release of meltwater from a giant glacial lake in North America, called Lake Agassiz, caused sea levels to jump by more than two feet. By slowing the circulation of warm water in the North Atlantic, this influx of frigid water triggered a sudden plunge in temperature, causing Doggerland’s coasts—if any remained—to be battered by frigid winds. If that were not enough, around the same time, a landslide on the seafloor off the coast of Norway, called the Storegga slide, triggered a tsunami that flooded the coastlines of northern Europe.

Was the Storegga tsunami the coup de grâce, or had Doggerland already disappeared beneath the sea? Scientists can’t yet be sure. But they do know that sea-level rise slowed down after that. Then, around 6,000 years ago, a new people from the south arrived on the thickly forested shores of the British Isles. They came in boats, with sheep, cattle, and cereals. Today the living descendants of these early Neolithic farmers, equipped with vastly more sophisticated technology than their Mesolithic counterparts, once again look to a future contending with a rising sea.

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Lost city found off Indian coast

Back in April 2002, an expedition team jointly sponsored by Great Britain’s Scientific Exploration Society (SES) and India’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) made the discovery of a submerged complex of ruins off the coast of Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu, South India.

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13 years later questions remain unanswered. How old is it? How extensive is it? What artifacts remain hidden in the ruins? Time to revisit…

Stories passed from one generation to the next tell of a large, beautiful city that once occupied the area. The legends say the ancient metropolis was destroyed by the gods who were jealous of its beauty, and sent a flood to bury it beneath the waves. The area once boasted seven magnificent temples (The Seven Pagodas), but that six of these were swallowed by the sea. The seventh, and only remaining temple, still stands on the shore.

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Best-selling author Graham Hancock spent several years cataloging and studying these myths. When he returned to the area as part of an expedition team jointly sponsored by the SES and NIO, the goal was to search beneath the sea and make a detailed survey that would confirm the existence of the temples, and investigate the date of their destruction.

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Diving in challenging conditions, the team found the “foundation of walls, broken pillars, steps, and many scattered stone blocks,” said Kamlesh Vora, a marine archaeologist with NIO. All structures are made of granite stone (crystal).

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Vora, Halls, and the rest of the team were quickly convinced that they had made a major discovery of man-made structures. “Here there would be no furrowed brows, no peering at reefs from different angles, no dusting for elusive archaeological fingerprints,” said Halls. “Here man was everywhere.”

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Officials of Archeological Survey of India and laborers work at an excavation site in Mahabalipuram, India, March 13, 2005. AP Image:http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tsunami-revealed-lost-indian-city/

The archaeological and inscriptional evidence of sites on land near shore indicate a possible date of construction of these structures between 1,500 to 1,200 years before present.

If the Mahabalipuram ruins are found to be of the same temple complex as the shore temple, the discovery would lend credence to the local tales that outsiders have often disregarded as legend. Graham Hancock, said: “I have argued for many years that the world’s flood myths deserve to be taken seriously, a view that most Western academics reject.

Scientists now want to explore the possibility that the city was submerged following the last Ice Age. If this proves correct, it would date the settlement at more than 5,000 years old.

References:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/05/0528_020528_sunkencities_2.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1923794.stm

Submerged man-made structures 9,500 years old – Near Dwaraka

Marine scientists in India say an archaeological site off India’s western coast may be up to 9,000 years old.

Lets revisit the original article posted by the BBC on January 16th, 2002…

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Acoustic images from the sea-bed suggested the presence of built-up structures resembling the ancient Harappan civilization, which dates back around 4,000 years. The Harappan civilization is the oldest in the subcontinent. Although Palaeolithic sites dating back around 20,000 years have been found on the coast of India’s western state of Gujarat before, this is the first time there are indications of man-made structures as old as 9,500 years found deep beneath the sea surface.

The Gulf of Cambay has been of interest to archaeologists due to its proximity to another ancient submerged site – Dwaraka – in the Gulf of Kutch.

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An underwater archaeologist of the ASI examines an ancient structure off the shore of Dwaraka; a circular structure on the shore at Dwaraka; fragment of an ancient structure found underwater; remains of an ancient structure in the forecourt of the Dwarakadhish temple.

Investigations in the Cambay region have been made more difficult by strong tidal currents running at around two to three meters per second. They impede any sustained underwater studies. Marine scientists led by the Madras-based National Institute of Ocean Technology said they got around this problem by taking acoustic images off the sea-bed and using dredging equipment to extract artifacts.

The Indian Minister for Ocean Technology at that time, Murli Manohar Joshi, told journalists the images indicated not only symmetrical man-made structures but also a paleo-river, running for around nine kilometres, on whose banks all the artefacts were discovered.

Experts say submerged pottery may offer a clue. Carbon dating carried out on one of these artefacts – a block of wood bearing the signs of deep fissures – suggested it had been around since about 7,595 BC.

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Could this be yet another example of an antediluvian (pre-flood) civilization being wiped out by a cataclysmic event thousands of years ago? According to their myth, around 1500 BC the whole western coast of India mysteriously disappeared along with Dwaraka – the great city of gold. The deluge came and the submergence took place immediately after Sri Krishna departed from the world.

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