Ceremonies and Politics of the First Mississippian Farmers
The reasons for the rise and fall of early cities and ceremonial centers around the world have been sought for centuries. In the United States, Cahokia has been the focus of intense archaeological work to explain its mysteries. Cahokia was the first and exponentially the largest of the Mississippian centers that appeared across the Midwest and Southeast after AD 1000. Located near present-day East St. Louis, Illinois, the central complex of Cahokia spanned more than 12 square kilometers and encompassed more than 120 earthen mounds.
As one of the foremost experts on Cahokia, Susan M. Alt addresses long-standing considerations of eastern Woodlands archaeology—the beginnings, character, and ending of Mississippian culture (AD 1050–1600)—from a novel theoretical and empirical vantage point. Through this case study on farmers’ immigration and resettling, Alt’s narrative reanalyzes the relationship between administration and diversity, incorporating critical new discoveries and archaeological patterns from outside of Cahokia.
Alt examines the cultural landscape of the Cahokia flood plain and the layout of one extraordinary upland site, Grossman, as an administrative settlement where local farmers might have seen or participated in Cahokian rituals and ceremonies involving a web of ancestors, powers, and places. Alt argues that a farming district outside the center provides definitive evidences of the attempted centralized administration of a rural hinterland.
“Alt lucidly presents evidence that people at Grossmann and at other Richland Complex sites were frequently involved in ceremonies. What those ceremonies were, and exactly how they made Cahokia complex, awaits further explication. Meanwhile, she has done a fine job of making important information about the Richland Complex accessible in her compact and well-written volume, Cahokia's Complexities.”
"Cahokia's Complexities is an important contribution to the growing literature on Cahokia and its various aspects. It shows how archaeological research can uncover new information not only about the material culture but also about how the society was organized."
“Cahokia's Complexities engages with interesting, broadly relevant anthropological theory and grounds this engagement in a detailed material case study.”
—Meghan C. L. Howey, author of Mound Builders and Monument Makers of the Northern Great Lakes, 1200–1600 and associate editor of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology
“Alt outlines interesting ideas about the role of hybridity and diversity in the development of Cahokia, one of the most complex polities and cultural landscapes of Native North America. Cahokia’s Complexities is an important book about current archaeological knowledge of the Cahokian cultural landscape. It will set the stage for what we can learn from new archaeological finds in the years to come in the American Bottom and in the Cahokian diaspora, and it is a significant contribution to broader scholarly conversations in archaeology about complexity.”
—Chris Rodning, author of Center Places and Cherokee Towns: Archaeological Perspectives on Native American Architecture and Landscape in the Southern Appalachians