Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World

By Timothy R. Pauketat; Thomas E. Emerson | Go to book overview

Rinita A. Dalan


5
The Construction of
Mississippian Cahokia

A consideration of the landscape and how this landscape was modified over time provides information that is critical for understanding social and political change at Cahokia and the emergence of this premier mound center. Through effects on social cohesion, landscape-modification efforts were an important means of restructuring society across the Emergent MississippianMississippian transition. Earth-moving activities were not an epiphenomenon of an already Mississippianized society; the creation of the cultural landscape played an integral role in the development of Mississippian culture within the American Bottom.

The cultural landscape at Cahokia, defined as that portion of the terrain that has been culturally modified, encompasses more than the mounds and open borrow pits. These features do provide a highly visible record of the extraordinary effort that went into sculpting and creating Cahokia, but, as the site's inhabitants filled and leveled large expanses of ground (Bareis 1975a; Dalan 1993a), we need also to consider subsurface expressions of earthmoving activities.

In order to approach landscapes as features worthy of study, a new kind of archaeology employing nontraditional methods is required (Deetz 1990). In my research at Cahokia, I have applied a number of geophysical methods as a relatively nondestructive and cost-effective means of investigating both surface and subsurface landscape expressions (Dalan 1993a; Dalan and Banerjee 1996). Combining these data with that arrived at using more traditional means provides a comprehensive and diachronic view of landscape alteration. It is this perspective of site formation that is useful in understanding the process of social and political change.

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