Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World

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

Vernon James Knight Jr.


11
Some Developmental
Parallels between Cahokia
and Moundville

The Cahokia phenomenon has attracted the interest of several generations of scholars interested in explaining its complexity. Common to much of this intellectual activity is the notion of Cahokia's uniqueness on the continent of North America. This conception is without doubt justifiable. The Cahokia center was built on a uniquely grand scale, and the timing of its rise as a unified polity also appears to be singularly precocious in relation to counterparts such as Lake George, Etowah, or Moundville. There is a sense, though, in which Cahokia is an awkward beast. Although it is evident to most people that Cahokia is one of several large Mississippian ceremonial centers and belongs in that category, its untidy bulk tugs forcefully at the seams of textbook-variety generalizations by which its lesser counterparts might be accommodated. Add to this the perverse fact that Cahokia is not even geographically in the Southeast, and we have the unsettling result that the story of southeastern prehistory might be more comfortably told if Cahokia did not exist.

Nevertheless, Cahokia does exist, and it would be frivolous to ignore the fact that its appearance was part of a more general southeastern cultural and historical phenomenon. Despite local differences in many particulars, the rise and fall of native southeastern polities over the period of A.D. 1000 to 1500 constitutes a series of linked events. Something may be gained in this essay, therefore, from viewing Cahokia as a southeastern paramount chiefdom, if not a particularly normal one, that is likely to have developed with internal dynamics duplicated elsewhere in the Mississippian world.1 My counterpoint will be the Moundville chiefdom in Alabama. Moundville is

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