Early Mississippian Social Negotiation and Cahokia's Richland Complex
Tim Pauketat Principal Investigator
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With National Science Foundation support Dr. Timothy Pauketat and his colleagues will conduct two field seasons of archaeological research in the Cahokia region, located East of St. Louis, Missouri. Cahokia is a monumental site which included large mounds and `woodhenges` and which served as center for perhaps the largest and most hierarchically organized society known in prehistoric North America. Excavation at the site of Cahokia itself revealed a spatial organization indicative of a sustained consistent centralized power and it is likely that tens of thousands of individuals were incorporated into this system. Exotic goods associated with burials indicate trade networks which extended across the midwest. While most archaeologists have assumed a straightforward and fairly rigid form of political organization, Dr. Pauketat, based on his prior work in the area, believes that a significant amount of flexibility existed and that many groups within the Cahokia sphere of influence exhibited varying degrees of independence. In his recently supported NSF study, he noted the sudden appearance of `Richfield groups` in an area about 35 km. from Cahokia at ca. 1,050 AD. It was just then that Cahokia underwent its greatest fluorescence and Dr. Pauketat believes that Richfield peoples moved away from the site center to obtain a greater degree of independence. Dr. Pauketat and his team will conduct a pedestrian survey over a representative sample of this area. They will note surface material and features and plot their distribution. On this basis it will be possible to determine the extent and population density of Richfield peoples. Three sites will be chosen for excavation. The purpose will be to determine settlement configuration and house organization for comparison with contemporary Cahokia counterparts. Ceramics and other cultural objects will be analyzed also to determine degree of similarity. On this basis degree of cultural separation from Cahokia can be determined and the changes in such distance traced over time. This research is important for several reasons. Archaeologists have come to realize that large `capitals` such as Cahokia can only be understood in a broader regional context. Data collected to date suggest that simple models of hierarchy and dominance can not be automatically applied in such situations and that constant negotiation and re-definition of power between center and hinterlands likely existed. The data collected by Dr. Pauketat will help to confirm or deny this model. The research will involve a University of Buffalo field school and thus provide training for many students.