Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power

Thomas E Emerson, William S. Dancey, Timothy R Pauketat, Alasdair Whittle, Elizabeth Demarrais, Warren R. Deboer, A. B. Kehoe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

The days are long gone when archaeologists would automatically interpret any major prehistoric monument as evidence of a hierarchically organized society. Faced with a Stonehenge or a Silbury Hill, the evident deployment of large labour forces might naturally lead to thoughts of social élites and stratified societies. The task facing archaeologists today, however, is to interpret such monuments not as programmatic products of parallel social processes but as elements in unique and dynamic configurations of social, political and ideological interactions. This is the approach which the present volume seeks to exemplify, taking as its focus the famous site of Cahokia in the Mississippi valley. Cahokia itself is the greatest monument complex of prehistoric North America, marked by 120 mounds spread over an area of 13 square kilometres across the Mississippi river from the modern city of St Louis. During the twelfth century AD this was a settlement with a population estimated to have numbered in the thousands if not tens of thousands. What does such a phenomenon represent in social and political terms? In this book, Thomas Emerson considers not just the monuments of Cahokia themselves but the evidence for ideology and the power relationships which might have supported a hierarchical society, and the mechanisms which may have connected Cahokia with its rural hinterland. The wealth of detailed information available from the sites in and around Cahokia — some of them excavated by Emerson himself — allows a detailed analysis at a level which is rarely possible in archaeological cases of this kind. Drawing on concepts of individual agency, power and ideology as forces for social change, Emerson interprets the rise of Cahokia as the successful manipulation of ideology by élites, an ideology in which the subordinate layers of society are compelled to participate. Emerson's study raises key questions about the rise and fall of complex societies, and the role of ideology and agency in that process. That these questions remain open to debate, the contributions to this review feature amply demonstrate. How hierarchical was Cahokia, how effective was élite ideology, and, above all, how can we go about analyzing this kind of question from the archaeological evidence? The results have a bearing on archaeological interpretation at the very broadest level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-275
Number of pages27
JournalCambridge Archaeological Journal
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1999

Fingerprint

archaeology
ideology
monument
evidence
twelfth century
social process
available information
society
labor force
manipulation
Archaeology
Cahokia
social change
Ideology
river
interpretation
present
interaction
Society

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Archaeology

Cite this

Emerson, T. E., Dancey, W. S., Pauketat, T. R., Whittle, A., Demarrais, E., Deboer, W. R., & Kehoe, A. B. (1999). Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 9(2), 249-275. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774300015407

Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power. / Emerson, Thomas E; Dancey, William S.; Pauketat, Timothy R; Whittle, Alasdair; Demarrais, Elizabeth; Deboer, Warren R.; Kehoe, A. B.

In: Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, 10.1999, p. 249-275.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Emerson, TE, Dancey, WS, Pauketat, TR, Whittle, A, Demarrais, E, Deboer, WR & Kehoe, AB 1999, 'Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power', Cambridge Archaeological Journal, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 249-275. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774300015407
Emerson TE, Dancey WS, Pauketat TR, Whittle A, Demarrais E, Deboer WR et al. Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power. Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 1999 Oct;9(2):249-275. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774300015407
Emerson, Thomas E ; Dancey, William S. ; Pauketat, Timothy R ; Whittle, Alasdair ; Demarrais, Elizabeth ; Deboer, Warren R. ; Kehoe, A. B. / Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power. In: Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 1999 ; Vol. 9, No. 2. pp. 249-275.
@article{5c21dc7b3f6c40ac922d9eed3cf961a0,
title = "Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power",
abstract = "The days are long gone when archaeologists would automatically interpret any major prehistoric monument as evidence of a hierarchically organized society. Faced with a Stonehenge or a Silbury Hill, the evident deployment of large labour forces might naturally lead to thoughts of social {\'e}lites and stratified societies. The task facing archaeologists today, however, is to interpret such monuments not as programmatic products of parallel social processes but as elements in unique and dynamic configurations of social, political and ideological interactions. This is the approach which the present volume seeks to exemplify, taking as its focus the famous site of Cahokia in the Mississippi valley. Cahokia itself is the greatest monument complex of prehistoric North America, marked by 120 mounds spread over an area of 13 square kilometres across the Mississippi river from the modern city of St Louis. During the twelfth century AD this was a settlement with a population estimated to have numbered in the thousands if not tens of thousands. What does such a phenomenon represent in social and political terms? In this book, Thomas Emerson considers not just the monuments of Cahokia themselves but the evidence for ideology and the power relationships which might have supported a hierarchical society, and the mechanisms which may have connected Cahokia with its rural hinterland. The wealth of detailed information available from the sites in and around Cahokia — some of them excavated by Emerson himself — allows a detailed analysis at a level which is rarely possible in archaeological cases of this kind. Drawing on concepts of individual agency, power and ideology as forces for social change, Emerson interprets the rise of Cahokia as the successful manipulation of ideology by {\'e}lites, an ideology in which the subordinate layers of society are compelled to participate. Emerson's study raises key questions about the rise and fall of complex societies, and the role of ideology and agency in that process. That these questions remain open to debate, the contributions to this review feature amply demonstrate. How hierarchical was Cahokia, how effective was {\'e}lite ideology, and, above all, how can we go about analyzing this kind of question from the archaeological evidence? The results have a bearing on archaeological interpretation at the very broadest level.",
author = "Emerson, {Thomas E} and Dancey, {William S.} and Pauketat, {Timothy R} and Alasdair Whittle and Elizabeth Demarrais and Deboer, {Warren R.} and Kehoe, {A. B.}",
year = "1999",
month = "10",
doi = "10.1017/S0959774300015407",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "9",
pages = "249--275",
journal = "Cambridge Archaeological Journal",
issn = "0959-7743",
publisher = "Cambridge University Press",
number = "2",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power

AU - Emerson, Thomas E

AU - Dancey, William S.

AU - Pauketat, Timothy R

AU - Whittle, Alasdair

AU - Demarrais, Elizabeth

AU - Deboer, Warren R.

AU - Kehoe, A. B.

PY - 1999/10

Y1 - 1999/10

N2 - The days are long gone when archaeologists would automatically interpret any major prehistoric monument as evidence of a hierarchically organized society. Faced with a Stonehenge or a Silbury Hill, the evident deployment of large labour forces might naturally lead to thoughts of social élites and stratified societies. The task facing archaeologists today, however, is to interpret such monuments not as programmatic products of parallel social processes but as elements in unique and dynamic configurations of social, political and ideological interactions. This is the approach which the present volume seeks to exemplify, taking as its focus the famous site of Cahokia in the Mississippi valley. Cahokia itself is the greatest monument complex of prehistoric North America, marked by 120 mounds spread over an area of 13 square kilometres across the Mississippi river from the modern city of St Louis. During the twelfth century AD this was a settlement with a population estimated to have numbered in the thousands if not tens of thousands. What does such a phenomenon represent in social and political terms? In this book, Thomas Emerson considers not just the monuments of Cahokia themselves but the evidence for ideology and the power relationships which might have supported a hierarchical society, and the mechanisms which may have connected Cahokia with its rural hinterland. The wealth of detailed information available from the sites in and around Cahokia — some of them excavated by Emerson himself — allows a detailed analysis at a level which is rarely possible in archaeological cases of this kind. Drawing on concepts of individual agency, power and ideology as forces for social change, Emerson interprets the rise of Cahokia as the successful manipulation of ideology by élites, an ideology in which the subordinate layers of society are compelled to participate. Emerson's study raises key questions about the rise and fall of complex societies, and the role of ideology and agency in that process. That these questions remain open to debate, the contributions to this review feature amply demonstrate. How hierarchical was Cahokia, how effective was élite ideology, and, above all, how can we go about analyzing this kind of question from the archaeological evidence? The results have a bearing on archaeological interpretation at the very broadest level.

AB - The days are long gone when archaeologists would automatically interpret any major prehistoric monument as evidence of a hierarchically organized society. Faced with a Stonehenge or a Silbury Hill, the evident deployment of large labour forces might naturally lead to thoughts of social élites and stratified societies. The task facing archaeologists today, however, is to interpret such monuments not as programmatic products of parallel social processes but as elements in unique and dynamic configurations of social, political and ideological interactions. This is the approach which the present volume seeks to exemplify, taking as its focus the famous site of Cahokia in the Mississippi valley. Cahokia itself is the greatest monument complex of prehistoric North America, marked by 120 mounds spread over an area of 13 square kilometres across the Mississippi river from the modern city of St Louis. During the twelfth century AD this was a settlement with a population estimated to have numbered in the thousands if not tens of thousands. What does such a phenomenon represent in social and political terms? In this book, Thomas Emerson considers not just the monuments of Cahokia themselves but the evidence for ideology and the power relationships which might have supported a hierarchical society, and the mechanisms which may have connected Cahokia with its rural hinterland. The wealth of detailed information available from the sites in and around Cahokia — some of them excavated by Emerson himself — allows a detailed analysis at a level which is rarely possible in archaeological cases of this kind. Drawing on concepts of individual agency, power and ideology as forces for social change, Emerson interprets the rise of Cahokia as the successful manipulation of ideology by élites, an ideology in which the subordinate layers of society are compelled to participate. Emerson's study raises key questions about the rise and fall of complex societies, and the role of ideology and agency in that process. That these questions remain open to debate, the contributions to this review feature amply demonstrate. How hierarchical was Cahokia, how effective was élite ideology, and, above all, how can we go about analyzing this kind of question from the archaeological evidence? The results have a bearing on archaeological interpretation at the very broadest level.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=1842545641&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=1842545641&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1017/S0959774300015407

DO - 10.1017/S0959774300015407

M3 - Review article

AN - SCOPUS:1842545641

VL - 9

SP - 249

EP - 275

JO - Cambridge Archaeological Journal

JF - Cambridge Archaeological Journal

SN - 0959-7743

IS - 2

ER -