Cahokia: a History

Topics: Mississippian culture, Cahokia, Mound Pages: 5 (1764 words) Published: December 11, 2012
Cahokia Mounds at one time, was the largest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico. The people were known for their corn crops, which increased the population. They were a major social, political, religious and economic influence on the other tribes in the region. Once a major city, now in ruins. It's demise has left both historians and archaeologists scratching their heads. What made Cahokia so great, and what caused it to disappear?

Cahokia Mounds was the largest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico and it included at least 120 mounds spread over more than 5 square miles. Permanent prehistoric occupation of the site began around A.D. 700, during the Late Woodland period. During the Emergent Mississippian period (A.D. 800-1000), population increased as corn agriculture expanded their food base and social, political, religious and economic organization became more complex. During the Mississippian period (A.D. 1000-1400) Cahokia literally "exploded” around AD 1050, becoming a huge complex chiefdom, a regional capital that many have called a “city.” Its exact size at any one time is unknown, but at its peak, from A.D. 1050-1150, it may have had a population of 10-20,000 people. By the 13th century, although still an important place, Cahokia’s population began to decline and by A.D. 1400 it had been abandoned.

There is no record of what the people called themselves or their city, but archaeologists use the term "Mississippian" for them, as that was the cultural tradition of which they were a part. The name "Cahokia" was given to the site during the 1800s to commemorate a later sub-tribe of the Illinois (Illiniwek) Indians who had moved into this area in the seventeenth century, although they had not built the mounds. (Source: Prehistoric Cultures at the Confluence, William R. Iseminger) The Mississippian period begins to emerge around AD 800. The community pattern usually included groupings of houses and other structures arranged around a courtyard, often with a central post that was sometimes surrounded by pits, and larger structures, probably communal or ceremonial, to one side or in the courtyard area. These formal arrangements suggest the emergence of a ranked form of socio-political organization in the American Bottom region, and perhaps the appearance of chiefs. The presence of large communities suggests population increases. Corn had become an even more important crop, providing the quantities and surpluses needed to feed larger populations, but the starchy seed crops discussed earlier and many wild plant and animal foods still contributed in major ways to the diet. With this stable food base a foundation was laid upon which the massive community of Cahokia could be built. Larger populations could be supported and, as population numbers and densities increased, societal ordering became more complex. More well-defined social classes and hierarchies developed; there was increased specialization and division of labor; political alliances became more important; trade was highly structured; conflicts and even warfare between groups and polities increased, perhaps fueled by competition for resources or territory. During Mississippian, new ceramic forms appeared with a greater variety of form and style than previously seen, and gradually the majority of wares were tempered with burned and crushed mussel shell, mixed with a paste made from local clay outcrops. There was an increase in exotic wares from distant regions, primarily from the south, most likely used as containers for commodities being traded rather than the pottery itself being traded. Exchange networks were well developed and growing, probably under the control of high ranking personages. The dominant features of Cahokia then and now, are the mounds, as many as 120 of them in Cahokia proper. (Source:Site summary) They were constructed entirely of earth, carried in baskets from Cahokia's many borrow pits. The mounds come in three forms:...
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