Their intricate jewelry — fanciful objects hammered from chunks of naturally occurring raw copper — reflected the firelight. A variety of these ancient Mississippian-era copper decorations have turned up throughout Illinois and the Southeast United States, including triangular, 8-inch long-earrings embossed at the ends with a human face, headdress ornaments depicting stylized birds, even diminutive but carefully crafted copper ovals that may have been applied to a ritualistic leather belt or cape. When they are unearthed, these antiquities are covered with a green or gray patina.
Today, traffic on Collinsville Road passes a short distance from the collection of over more than 80 mounds where, archaeologists say, this American Stone Age scene is thought to have regularly occurred.
But there is something unique about a particular excavated area beside a rather plain looking mound — Mound 34 — that lies about 200 yards east of the world famous and huge Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. The carefully sifted soil at this excavation has revealed evidence of the only known copper workshop from the Mississippian-era, a culture that peaked about 1250 A.D. throughout the middle and southern portions of America. The overall Illinois state site was the location of a large, prehistoric city of perhaps 20,000 that archaeologists call Cahokia.
“It’s the only one (copper workshop) that’s been discovered,” said James A. Brown, professor of archaeology at Northwestern University in Chicago.