Soil catena formation and erosion of two Mississippian mounds at Cahokia archaeological site, Illinois

K. R. Olson, R. L. Jones, A. N. Gennadiyev, S. Chernyanskii, W. I. Woods, J. M. Lang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


About 1000 years ago, Mississippian Indians built what are now designated Mounds 69 and 70 at Cahokia near Collinsville, Illinois. Loamy soil materials were placed on the mounds by Mississippian Indians before A.D. 1100, and die site was inhabited until approximately A.D. 1300. The general objective of this study was to determine the potential of using archaeological mounds or sites to obtain information on soil development and erosion processes. Our specific objectives were to determine: (i) the extent of soil formation during the past 900 years, (ii) the time period and extent of disturbance by human activities, including tillage and digging by treasure hunters and looters, and (iii) the erosion phase of soils on mound sideslopes and the amount of soil loss from accelerated erosion. The vegetation and distribution of organic C in soil profiles suggests there has been no tillage since the 1970s and little soil erosion of either the summit or the sideslope of Mound 69. The adjacent alluvial plain is still being cultivated. Fly ash, particulate matter resulting from high-temperature coal combustion, was used as a time marker in soil and sediment. Fly-ash distributions in the upper 20 cm of Mound 69 support the theory that cultivation occurred between the 1850s and the 1970s. Based on the fly ash data, approximately 55% of the original surface soil layer remains on the sideslope of Mound 69 (compared with the uncultivated sideslope of Mound 70). There has been substantial deposition of sediment rich in fly ash onto the footslope of Mound 69 (from the cultivated sideslope) and the toeslope of Mound 70 (from the cultivated footslope). The fly ash and organic C data for the summit soil profile on Mound 70 suggest treasure hunters and looters disarranged the soil profile completely. The uncultivated sideslope with a 23% slope had a 40-cm surface layer rich in fly ash. The fly-ash content and thickness of the footslope soil surface layer was reduced as a result of tillage and erosion from the 1850s to the 1970s. Fly ash-enriched sediment accumulated on the toeslope and created a 60-cm surface layer. The current vegetation and the decrease in organic C with depth on the footslope and toeslope of Mound 70 suggest that no tillage has occurred since the 1970s. Fly ash presence within soil layers indicates which layers have been exposed at the soil surface since the 1850s and the extent of soil mixing. Archaeological mounds with known dates of construction can be used to obtain information on soil development and erosion processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)812-824
Number of pages13
JournalSoil Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2003


  • Archaeological mound
  • Erosion
  • Fly ash
  • Magnetic susceptibility
  • Paleoenvironment
  • Tillage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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