From 700 CE, the first large towns were built in North America. In the eastern woodlands, people created large towns around the Mississippi River valley. Filled with rectangular, flat-topped earth mounds and grouped around open plazas, they were ceremonial and administrative centers that organized the production and distribution of food and manufactured goods. Meanwhile, in the dry southwest, farmers called the Anasazi built large villages as single structures, crowded with rooms. These are called “pueblos,” Spanish for towns or villages, and the Anasazi are also known as the pueblo people. Although the mound builders and Anasazi were very different, their societies were both based on farming, with main crops of corn, beans, and squash.
MONK’S MOUND - This is the Monk’s Mound in Cahokia, today in the state of Illinois, where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers meet. The mound is over 100 ft (30 m) high, with a base bigger than the largest Egyptian pyramid. Unlike an Egyptian pyramid, it was made wholly of earth. The wooden building on top may have served as the home of the chief or as a council chamber. This is just one of the 100 mounds in Cahokia.
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MOUND-BUILDER POTTERY - The mound-builders made pots in the form of human heads, which may represent ancestors or even trophies—the heads of enemies taken in war. The head has closed eyes, a sign that he is dead. He wears large round plugs in his ears, and the lines on his face suggest tattooing, decorative scarring, or face paint. This pot shows what the mound- builders themselves may have looked like.
THE ANASAZI - In the southwest, Anasazi farmers built large compact villages, now called “great houses.” This is Pueblo Bonito, in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. It is a single large structure with more than 600 rooms, like an apartment building. At the back, it was five stories high and was the tallest structure in North America until skyscrapers were built. Anasazi people lived here from 900 to 1100 CE.
KIVAS - Anasazi sites have circular semi-underground buildings, known as kivas. Their large size, up to 65 ft (20 m) across, suggests they were public meeting places rather than houses. People may have gathered here to hold ceremonies to bring rain, luck in hunting, or a good harvest. Each kiva was covered with a timber roof covered with mud, with an opening in the middle. People entered by climbing down a ladder from the roof.
CLIFF PALACE - Around 1200, the Anasazi abandoned their villages on the floor of Chaco Canyon, and built a new, better-protected settlement, known as the Cliff Palace, high in a canyon wall. They climbed up using hand and toe holes cut into the rock face. Soon after 1300, the Cliff Palace was abandoned too. Tree rings from timbers here show that there was a 22-year drought, between 1276 and 1299. This disaster may explain the abandonment of the Cliff Palace.