Sun watchers will gather at 7 a.m. Sunday to celebrate the winter solstice and watch dawn break over Woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds.
Collinsville’s Woodhenge sits about 1/2 mile west of Monks Mound. Reconstructed in 1985, there were originally five iterations of wood pole formations at the site, probably constructed by the Mississippians between 1100 and 1200 AD, Cahokia Mound’s Assistant Site Manager Bill Iseminger said.
The discovery that led to Woodhenge came in the early 1960s when work at the site to build an intestate ramp uncovered pottery, hundreds of houses and wood in holes, among other things, Iseminger said. Under the direction of Warren Wittry, the site was excavated and, eventually, four different circles were mapped, as well as one arc.
Each iteration of the complete circles had 12 more posts than the previous, Iseminger said. Woodhenge 1 had 24 outer posts, plus the center post. Woodhenge 3, the one reconstructed at the site, has 48 outer posts plus the center post. It was chosen for reconstruction because it was the most thoroughly excavated Iseminger said.
No one is sure why multiple post circles were constructed or why 12 posts were added for each version. However, the fact that the sun appears to rise directly out of the front of Monks Mound at the equinoxes could indicate that the wooden circles were adjusted as the size and shape of Monks Mound changed, Iseminger said.
Of course, no one is sure why any of the structures were made. The posts on the eastern side would have been enough to track the sunrise for use as a calendar. The fact that the circles were enclosed could indicate that they had ceremonial significance, Iseminger said.
The posts in Woodhenge are placed in the exact spot determined by excavation. The reconstructed circle was missing nine posts when completed in 1985. However, the neighboring business, Keely & Sons, donated the land needed to complete the circle.
A typical crowd for a solstice viewing at Woodhenge is 30-60, Iseminger said, although about 150 celebrated the 2013 fall equinox at the site.
There will be no ceremony at the free event Sunday.
“We don’t think that would be appropriate,” Iseminger said. “Because we’re not Indian ourselves, we don’t want to offend people who are.”