Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World

Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World

Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World

Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World


About one thousand years ago, Native Americans built hundreds of earthen platform mounds, plazas, residential areas, and other types of monuments in the vicinity of present-day St. Louis. This sprawling complex, known to archaeologists as Cahokia, was the dominant cultural, ceremonial, and trade center north of Mexico for centuries. This stimulating collection of essays casts new light on the remarkable accomplishments of Cahokia.


Timothy R. Pauketat and Thomas E. Emerson

There was a place in native North America that, far removed in space and time from the Mexican empires and European governments, embodied political order and social inequality of a sort seldom associated with precontact peoples. In this place, and spanning more than a century, a dominant few transcended the community and ruled. The produce of a fertile floodplain was carried to this place, and from this place, the media of a political ideology were dispersed. The place was Cahokia.

Cahokia, more than any of its contemporary “Mississippian” neighbors, was a vortex of native social, political, economic, and religious activity. For a time it was the preeminent cultural center in the Mississippi valley. Its direct and indirect influences on midcontinental and southeastern native communities were varied and widespread, from Minnesota to Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Cahokia as a native center of political and religious activity was, in many respects, not unique. It was one of many such centers in the central Mississippi River valley, and one of hundreds throughout southeastern North America dating between A.D. 1000 and 1600 (figure 1.1). But Cahokia, by almost any measure of polity, economy, or society, was the largest of them all. It was situated at the very northwestern margins of the American Southeast (Emerson 1991a, 233), in a regional setting that has been likened to a “gateway” to the north (J. Kelly 1991a). Its geographic location, moreover, may have been just one of several unique factors involved in its rise to preeminence (Pauketat 1994a).

This book is an explanation of Cahokia and its immediate domain as a phenomenon that contributed to the development of the Mississippian . . .

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