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

By Timothy R. Pauketat | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Diachronic Artifactual Evidence

Domestic refuse can provide integral insights into the identities and activities of community members. As identities change through time, we may infer that the cultural hegemony has transformed the consciousness of the populace. As activities change through time, we may argue that the relationship of subgroups or households to horizontal or vertical social structures has been altered. Both lines of evidence are integral for evaluating political, social, and economic transformations throughout the American Bottom region. The 15A-DT evidence will be argued in chapter 7 to reflect an abrupt consolidation of political power, a realignment of social order and identity, and the coalescence of sacral chiefly authority and a nonstate class hegemony.

At a populous site like Cahokia, domestic garbage might have included discarded household possessions and residues from subsistence activities, tool production and use, craft goods manufacture, household ritual, and communal or public gatherings. These discarded items and residues might have been consistently deposited in specific locations, as Mehrer (1988) has concluded occurred at rural Mississippian sites. Unfortunately, the palimpsest of superimposed pits and buildings at Cahokia inhibits the recognition of discrete refuse deposits belonging to individual households or subgroups (Mehrer 1988; Pauketat 1987c:79, 1989). Even discovering which pits were used by a given domestic group usually is not possible.

Buildings and the refuse found in their basins are not necessarily contemporaneous or attributable to the same household. In addition to the garbage that might have been allowed to accumulate on house floors (see Deal 1985; Hayden and Cannon 1983), additional refuse may have been deposited in abandoned house depressions by households unrelated to the earlier occupants. This postabandonment deposition is especially likely in the case of deep basins at Cahokia that might have required more than one or two years to fill completely. Pits, on the other hand, are much smaller and may have been filled over the course of a season or, at most, a

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