Cahokia's Richland Farmers: Agricultural Expansion, Immigration, Ritual, and the Foundations of Mississippian Civilization
Project Directors: Susan Alt, Co-Project Director 2014–Present (Anthropology, Indiana); Timothy Pauketat, Project Director 2014–2015, 2016–Present (Anthropology, Illlinois); Thomas Emerson, Project Director 2015–2016 (Director, Illinois State Archaeological Survey)
Grant Program: Collaborative Research
"Cahokia’s dramatic mid-11th-century AD construction as a monumental capital, built by a diverse, rapidly urbanizing population of immigrants and locals, is a model for the rise of early civilizations everywhere. This is especially true because the precise causal connections between immigrant farmers, climate change, and religion can be understood thanks to multi-year, large-scale salvage excavations at the four sites. These promise singular insights into the lives of farmers at the moment of a city’s coalescence. By isolating the region’s discrete subpopulations and tracking their activities around AD 1050, our NEH project is producing, for the first time, a historically detailed understanding of how new agrarian relationships linked farming and farmers with other forces of the world in ways that underwrote Cahokia’s urbanism.
"We are understanding the fundamental relationships between cultural diversity, agriculture, climate, religion and social history by correlating multiple lines of domestic, culinary, and ritual evidence associated with the remains of hundreds of pole-and-thatch buildings and other discrete deposits excavated at the four sites under salvage conditions in the 1990s and 2000s. The people at each site ran the gamut from local to immigrant and farmer to administrator. The question that they will help us to answer is how producers from diverse social and cultural backgrounds underwrite civilization.Understanding how—especially the extent to which people’s choices and relationships to ecological, political, ancestral, and other elemental powers are filtered by their worldviews—has a direct bearing on questions of global sustainability into our collective future."