De-mything the Cahokia catlinite trade

Thomas E. Emerson, Randall E. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Western-derived formalistic economic models continue to pervade much of the discussion relating to the political and economic history of noncapitalist societies. The rise of complex societies across the world has been intimately tied to such economic variables. In North America, the emergence of Cahokia and other Mississippian chiefdoms is also often linked to these factors. Such models rely on the large-scale movement of materials between distant locales. Critical to these approaches is the demonstration that items identified as "exotic" are nonlocal. Only archaeometric analysis can make this determination. This paper continues our research in geologic sourcing through X-ray diffraction and spectroscopic analysis (Emerson and Hughes 2000). We examine red stone from the American Bottom that was identified macroscopically as catlinite and as part of the panregional Cahokia trade network. We prove that the Cahokian "catlinite," in fact, is not catlinite and is from one or more other possible sources. This proof demonstrates catlinite, at the earliest, entered the American Bottom with Oneota peoples in the fourteenth century, and more likely, with protohistoric or historic groups in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. This geologic sourcing research continues to cast doubt on the role and importance of large-scale, long-distance economic transactions in Cahokian history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-161
Number of pages13
JournalPlains Anthropologist
Issue number176
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Archaeometry
  • Cahokia
  • Catlinite
  • Trade
  • Upper Mississippi Valley

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology

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