Medieval Mississippians: The Cahokia World

Edited by Timothy R. Pauketat and Susan M. Alt

(SAR Press, 2015; 169 pgs., illus. $60 cloth, $25 paper;


This collection of 17 essays by 28 archaeologists and Native Americans explores the world of the Mississippians, Native Americans united by a common culture that dominated the Southeastern United States and beyond from about A.D. 1000 until the coming of the first Europeans in the 1540s. Thousands of their descendants continue to live in the region. In particular this volume looks at the early centuries of the Mississippian era (A.D. 1000-1300) and its principle city of Cahokia near present-day St. Louis.

Each of the 17 essays focuses on some aspect or place of Mississippian life, from its origins in the Cole Creek culture of Mississippi and Louisiana to its spread north, south, east, and west, and to the fall of Cahokia. The central place of the Mississippians was Cahokia, a large city of some 40,000 people in A.D. 1100 with dozens of earthen platform mounds supporting the temples and homes of the ruling class. Other mounds contain many burials. Monk’s Mound, the largest pyramid north of the Valley of Mexico, is 100 feet tall and its base covers some 13 acres. Cahokia has an elevated causeway, a grand and secondary plazas, and an astronomical center known as Woodhenge. The central part of the city was enclosed by a large wooden palisade.

Cahokia was a center of a vast trade network that linked the smaller centers of the Mississippian world. Corn agriculture fed the large populations. Cahokia was also a spiritual center with activities that included human sacrifice, and it influenced a vast area. Art from Cahokia is found throughout the region. The game of chunkey was played with disk-shaped stones by everyone in the region, and it had enormous influence on the culture that it helped bind together. The various authors pull all of these threads together to give us a sharper view of the complex Mississippian system.

Written for the general public and amply illustrated with black and white and color photographs, drawings, and maps, Medieval Mississippians is an important addition to the growing body of Mississippian literature. It is the eighth volume of an excellent series on North American archaeology by SAR Press.

Read more Book Reviews in our Fall 2015 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 19 No. 3

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