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Were there pyramids in early St. Louis civilization? Author Mark Leach makes that case

Author Mark Leach details discoveries of St. Louis' ancient Native American civilzation.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
Author Mark Leach details discoveries of St. Louis' ancient Native American civilzation.

When it comes to ancient civilizations, St. Louisans can find one in their own hometown. Centuries ago, a well-established society left wonders, most notability, the Cahokia Mounds.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with author Mark Leach, a Native American mound preservationist.

Leach’s latest book, "The Great Pyramids of St. Louis: An Ancient Metropolis” details the history of the mounds and the culture of the Native American population.

“We think of ancient history as being far off, exotic places [like] Rome, Athens. But this was the epicenter of something remarkable that happened a thousand years ago,” Leach said.

The book documents various aspects of the civilization that existed 1,000 years ago in St. Louis, including the discovery of an enormous amount of 900-year-old trash from just one feast at Cahokia, the city just across the Mississippi River.

The culture centered in Cahokia stretched from East St. Louis to the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. Leach said archeologists refer to the collective group as “Mississippians.” The Osage Nation Native American tribe is one of several tribes that trace their ancestry to the pyramid builders in St. Louis.

Leach said the mounds were monuments honoring past leaders and burial chambers for tombs and treasures, which are reminiscent of the pyramids of Egypt.

“People are pretty similar across the globe in how they honor their leaders and how they bury their leaders and the monuments they construct to show their collective greatness,” he said.

Leach said some archeologists believe a major contributor to the population boom in Cahokia happened on July 4, 1054 A.D. — when a star exploded and created a nebula. The ancient leaders seized the moment to claim deity and expand their civilization.

“Then things changed dramatically. That’s when massive construction projects start and population begins to swell. And this thing held together for several hundred years,” he said. But by the 1300s, the pyramids were deserted due to warfare and floods. Eight preserved mounds remain from the approximate original 120.

Listen below to hear more about St. Louis’ ancient civilization:


Related Events

What: Mark Leach’s Book Signing and Presentation: “The Great Pyramids of St. Louis”
When: 7, p.m., Dec. 5
Where: Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.