- 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: 11.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #781,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (Penguin's Library of American Indian History)
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Imagine wanting to read about Rome and you buy a book and it talks a lot about how the ruins of Rome were first noticed and had a lot of history about the archaeologists who dug up the ruins and less information about what they actually found. And, then a lot, underline a lot, of speculation about what it all means.
I am being a bit unfair because not a lot IS known about these people. They had no written language and they came and went like a flash in the pan. But, still, who needs the speculation.
I would read the Wikpedia entry about this culture along with this book.
All in all, I am glad I read the book but this is not a keeper. I am motivated though to go visit the State park which encompasses some of their ruins.
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.
What most fascinates me is the breadth and detail of what archeologists are able to infer from what they find. Consider some of the more remarkable findings from Cahokia, the skeletal remains of females buried in groups in mounds and showing signs of violence (one such sign being clenched hands and feet, indicating spasms at the time of death). Many of these women seem to have been from someplace else, not Cahokia, based on their dental morphology and bone characteristics. Via isotope studies bioarchelogists can tell something about the women's diet (generally different than that of Cahokians), and they even venture judgments about the women's beauty based on their bone characteristics. These findings form one large piece of a body of evidence that enables the archeologists to conclude that notable features of Cahokian society included human sacrifice, political theater, and social inequality.
Sometimes the inferences can go too far, beyond the evidence. It seems to me, for example, that Pauketat is not on very solid ground in some of his speculations about the purposes or effects of the ritual sacrifices (although he is careful to present them only as possibilities, not certainties).
Of course not all of the mysteries of Cahokia are solved, including such major ones as where the people came from, why they disbanded (around the end of the twelfth century), and where they went. Pauketat says that most archeologists believe the Mississipian phenomenon, including Cahokia, was home-grown independent of Mesoamerican culture, but he seems to leave open the possibility of connections.
I was left wondering, for example, whether advances in skeletal DNA technology might help answer some of the remaining questions about the origins and destiny of the Cahokian people. The story is likely to have further chapters.
The legacy of Meso-America is evident in the North American institutions of the Ancient Earthen Works and the long buried cosmology of First Man, Mother Corn, the Thunder Twins, and the Upper and Lower Realms.