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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (Penguin's Library of American Indian History)

3.9 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670020904
ISBN-10: 0670020907
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author and anthropologist Pauketat (Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions) locates a civilizational "big bang" in the Mississippi River valley of 1050 CE, where "social life, political organization, religious belief, art, and culture were radically transformed" by a highly ambitious group of American Indians and their capital city, Cahokia, located east of what is now St. Louis. In this illuminating text, Pauketat examines the life, death, and rediscovery of this vast urban population and their game-changing cultural innovations (ranging from innocuous but influential sports like "chunkey" to large-scale reenactments of mythical stories, featuring bloody human sacrifice). Page by page, Pauketat compiles the fascinating details of a complex archeological puzzle; explaining the study of cross-cultural goddess worship, cave art, hand tools and games, this volume doubles as a crash-course in the archeological method. Pauketat's academic approach responsibly invites opposing viewpoints, and his writing is rich in you-are-there detail, making this an archeological adventure suitable for pre-Columbian enthusiasts as well as inquisitive laymen.


"This informative book about Cahokia is also a rich source for theories and techniques applicable to archaeological and historical records elsewhere."--William Gustav Gartner, "Historical Geography,"

"This is an excellent volume. It is well organized and edited, and the individual contributions provide lots of data and provocative ideas. The book will serve as an important springboard for future research on Cahokian social history."--"American Anthropologist,"

"The book consists of thirteen essays that together constitute a complex and superbly crafted social history of Cahokia. . . . The contributors have written provocative and, for the most part, accessible essays that are both refreshing in their propositions and important in their conclusions."--"Journal of Southern History," --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin's Library of American Indian History
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (July 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670020907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670020904
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jay C. Smith on September 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (Penguin's Library of American Indian History)
I am a lay reader and know very little of archeology, but I have a special affinity for Cahokia. In 1967 my friend and I camped at what was then Cahokia Mounds State Park and were able to observe close-up a dig then in progress, with helpful explanations provided by the lone archeologist on-site. It seemed so painstaking, performed with fine instruments and brushes and, in so far as we could see at the time, it uncovered only shards and fragments.

Back then archeologists still had not grasped much of the significance of the site as it is now understood. At one time they believed it to be a ritual center, occupied only briefly by a few inhabitants. It is now known to have been a major eleventh- and twelfth-century populous urban center supported by surrounding farms, an early example of a government-sponsored urban renewal, a culture that marked a radical transformation in the history of indigenous Americans.

Well-told non-fiction accounts of archeological enterprises can draw in readers much like a good mystery, and Timothy Pauketat displays something of a novelist's touch here (although do not expect "Indiana Jones"). He recounts dozens of discoveries, generally in sufficient detail for readers to evaluate for themselves the evidence the archeologists were accumulating. Pauketat, himself a noted archeologist of the Cahokia site, clearly admires many of his predecessors and he gives us enough information about several to add an appealing human element to the narrative.
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Format: Paperback
Cahokia is the modern name for the remarkable prehistoric mid-Missisippi urban center that flourished from around 1050 and the subsequent 2 centuries. While population estimates vary, Cahokia proper and its immediate hinterland probably boasted a population in the 10,000s. Cahokia was unprecedented north of Mesoamerica and there were no comparably sized urban centers north of Mexico until the Colonial period. Remarkably, Cahokia appears to have emerged preciptiously in the mid-llth century without any clear precursors. The author is a leading expert on the archaeology of Cahokia and prehistoric America. Pauketat primarily focuses on the archaeology of Cahokia and how these archaeological findings can be interpreted to reconstruct crucial features of Cahokia. There is some discussion of changing perspectives in archaeology and the history of Cahokia archaeology. Pauketat makes strong efforts to place Cahokia in a very wide perspective, trying to link Cahokia to Mesoamerican civilizations and to explore the possible long-term consequences of Cahokian culture for subsequent cultures. Pauketat suggests that Cahokia arose as a "Big Bang," probably as a result of a major cultural-religous innovation that produced a major ceremonial center and a relatively complex and violent polity. Pauketat suggests that Cahokian culture and the fall of Cahokia resonated across eastern and central North America for subsequent centuries. A prominent feature is the fragmentary nature of the evidence about Cahokia and prehistoric North America. Beyond the intrinsic limitations of the archaeological record, knowledge of Cahokia is limited by the fact that much of Cahokia and related sites were destroyed prior to modern archaeological investigations.Read more ›
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Format: Audible Audio Edition
“Cahokia” is an in-depth recitation of what archeologists have learned about the ancient mounded city known as Cahokia. For unknown reasons Cahokia arose around 1050 becoming, with 20,000 inhabitants, a metropolis rivaling London during its day. With its satellite communities in current East St. Louis and St. Louis it was the most influential community north of Mexico for about two centuries. After that it blew away as mysteriously as it had risen, leaving only its many mounds and buried artifacts to document its presence.

Much of book is based on conjecture drawn from artwork, burial sites and the study of human remains. Author Timothy Pauketat concludes that Cahokia was a corn fed community in which human sacrifices were a common occurrence. He tries to place Cahokia in its continental context, understand why the Cahokians dispersed, where they went and why their memory was lost. Was it disease? Flight from oppressive social conditions? Climate change? Was there something about their past that made the descendants want to forget it? We may never know for sure but Mr. Pauketat and other researchers and writers give us bases from which to draw some conclusions from the mists of pre-history.

I often have problems following books that cover topics with which I am unfamiliar but I had fewer problems with this one than with many others. That reflects well on the writing style. I have made several visits to Cahokia and have driven through its heart thousands of times. I have often wondered what it was like in its day. Thanks to “Cahokia” I have a better idea and want to learn more. A book that can whet an appetite for knowledge is a worthy read.
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