The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America

By Timothy R. Pauketat | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Central and Rural
Mississippian Patterns

The great number of mounds, and the astonishing quantity of human bones, every where dug up, or found on the surface of the ground, with a thousand other appearances, announce that this valley was at one period, filled with habitations and villages. The whole face of the bluff, or hill which bounds it to the east, appears to have been a continued burial ground (Brackenridge 1814:186).

It is difficult now to comprehend, but at the time of the founding in A. D. 1699 of the first French mission amongst the Cahokia 1. and Tamaroa Indians, the floodplain and surrounding blufftops of the Northern Bottom Expanse—an area of less than 1,200 square kilometers—contained over 200 earthen mounds dating to the late prehistoric period. Perhaps as many as 180 of these earthworks, including the largest mounds in North America, were concentrated within what I have loosely called the Central Political-Administrative Complex, an area no greater than 30 square kilometers (figure 1.1). These were arranged at what were among the three largest late prehistoric administrative centers in North America—Cahokia, East St. Louis and St. Louis. Unfortunately, since 1699, the mounds and the surrounding landscape have been systematically destroyed by Euro- American civilization. The contemporary archaeological projection of the past thus is most assuredly a pale reconstruction.

Yet American Bottom archaeologists are poised to address the sorts of research problems not even conceivable in many parts of the world because of the maturity of research in the American Bottom region. American Bottom archaeologists have a firm grasp of late-prehistoric regional settlement patterns, the spatial organization of communities, and

____________________
1.
From which the names of the Cahokia site, the town of Cahokia, and Cahokia Creek derive, but no ethnic relation to the prehistoric Mississippians.

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