Funny that we've both lived our whole lives within less than an hour's drive of this place and yet had never been to see it. Oddly enough, our interest was piqued this past winter when an episode of America Unearthed aired on the History Channel. The show was interesting but ultimately disappointing in that no ancient pyramids were seen under the waters of a nearby lake, but the discussion of the ancient native culture of Aztalan had us wanting to see the area for ourselves.
I'll come back to that in a moment. As it happened, however, there were a couple thrift stores along the way, where my own kind of not-so-ancient treasures were unearthed. Such as this beauty, a vintage paint-by-number— for a buck!
PBNs are becoming harder to find, popular as they are with collectors of these amateur works of art. They're colorful and scenic and, for Boomers like me, hearken back to a time long before the internet or cable TV or even VHS, when a long winter afternoon might lend itself to dabbing paint from plastic pots onto a numbered board. I can still smell the oils and see, in my mind's eye, the paint-clumped toothpicks, mini stirrers, strewn over a newspaper lined desk.
I'm not sure that I ever finished any of my PBNs, and I certainly never attempted anything as large as this scene. I seemed to run out of both paint and enthusiasm at about the halfway point.
At another thrift store, while I lingered in the dish section, Norm made a beeline to the fabrics and scooped up a few bundles he thought I might like. Good eye, that guy.
We couldn't resist a couple of old 78 records for 35 cents apiece. Thought these would be fun to display at Christmas: Winter Wonderland and White Christmas, as performed by Guy Lombardo and the Andrews Sisters.
We still own a turntable, so we could, in theory, play these—or we could all just listen to them on YouTube, HERE and HERE.
Back to our tour of Aztalan. Wikipedia tells us:
- Aztalan is the site of an ancient Mississippian culture settlement that flourished during the 10th to 13th centuries. The indigenous people constructed massive earthwork mounds for religious and political purposes. They were part of a widespread culture with important settlements throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. Their trading network extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and into the southeast of the present-day United States.
- It was first settled around 900 by a Native American culture known as the Middle Mississippian Tradition. The chief center of a Middle Mississippian settlement is at Cahokia, in present-day Illinois, a city that at its peak had 20,000-30,000 people. This was not surpassed by Europeans in North America until after 1800. These settlements are characterized by the construction of mounds, stockades, and houses, by decorated Mississippian culture pottery and agricultural practices. There are also elements of the Woodland culture found here.
- The residents had long-distance trading relationships with other settlements, linked by their use of the rivers for transportation. For example, items found at the settlement include copper from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, shells from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and stone such as Mill Creek chert from other areas of the Midwest.
- Sometime between the years 1200 and 1300, the Aztalan settlement was abandoned. Archeologists and historians surmise they may have outgrown environmental resources, or encountered more warfare from other cultures, but do not know for sure. The Little Ice Age occurred soon after 1300 and may have contributed to farming difficulties, putting too much stress on the local chiefdoms.
This is the largest terraced mound. We are standing about 100 yards away at this vantage point.
This smaller mound had originally been a burial site where a number of ancient remains were carefully lain and then ceremoniously burned.
The fact that this culture lived within a stockade is unique to the other native cultures of the area. It is unknown whether the stockade was built to keep people safely in or keep others out (probably both). The posts would have been interwoven with vines or pliable branches and then grass and mud applied in a wattle and daub manner to make a solid wall.
It is hard to do this site justice in a blog post with pictures that might just look like prairie fields with shaped mounds of dirt and a bunch of poles in the ground. As you walk the grounds and read the historical information along the way, you get a real sense of the importance of this place in history, theirs and ours.
There was a museum up the road that contained more information and artifacts from both the native populations, as well as that of early immigrant settlers. More on that in another post.