You Really Should Visit America's Ancient Ruins
Five spectacular sites, no international flights.
For avid travelers, it not unusual to spend thousands of dollars and fly halfway around the world to visit ancient ruins in countries such as Italy, Jordan or Cambodia. But, what if we told you there are ancient ruins right here in the United States? As Priceonomics recently pointed out, you'll find one example in Illinois, right across the river from St. Louis. In 1811, Henry Brackenridge, a lawyer-journalist, discovered what would later come to be known as the Grand Plaza of Cahokia—the remnants of a 13th-century city that "resembled an urban grid, human bones, and mounds of soil formed into dozens of grassy pyramids up to 100 feet tall." Unfortunately, Brackenridge's discovery was widely ignored by, well, everyone and, eventually, "four-lane roads and highways" were built around and through Cahokia, and, as St. Louis grew in size, it came to cover more than half of the ancient site. Today, though Cahokia is a designated State Historic Site, and, according to archaeologists, is "America's version of the pyramids," it receives only 250,000 visitors each year (compare that to the ruins in Tulum, Mexico's 1.1 million annually—or Egypt's Pyramids of Giza, which chalk up more than 4 million visitors each year).
Next time you're considering a road trip to ruin or ancient adventure, why not stay closer to home and explore our continent's rich history? Here are five ancient ruin sites well worth a visit right here in the United States.
1. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site: The most sophisticated pre-historical native civilization north of Mexico once inhabited this city estimated to have reached a population of 20,000—larger than London at the time—in the mid-13th century. Situated about 10 miles outside of St. Louis, the site is easily reachable by car, bus or taxi.
2. Chaco Culture National Historical Park: Today, this New Mexico historical park is the densest concentration of pueblos in the southwestern United States, but in the late-10th and early-11th centuries, the canyon was a cultural center of ancient Puebloans, and the area was best known for its elaborate constructions—some buildings spanned multiple stories and contained "hundreds of rooms."
3. Poverty Point: This 910-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site in Louisiana holds the last remnants of a 3,000-year-old culture that was "an engineering marvel, the product of five million hours of labor," and part of a trading network that spanned the continent. The core of the monument is a series of six concentric arcs built from earthworks—and archaeologists are still confounded by what, exactly, the site was used for.
4. Meadowcroft Rockshelter: Designated a National Historic Landmark in Pennsylvania in 2005, Meadowcroft Rockshelter holds 16,000 years of history and is "the oldest site of human inhabitation in North America." Discovered in 1955 via a groundhog hole on a family farm, the site was later excavated by University of Pittsburgh archaeologists to yield two million artifacts—including evidence of activity from the ice age.
5. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: This national park near Chillicothe, Ohio, preserves six ancient earthwork structures dating from 200 BC to 500 AD. Original walls built as tall as 12 feet hight and 1,000 feet across and "conical and loaf-shaped earthen mounds" as high as 30 feet form part of the collection of geometric structures in the area.