Elements of ancient power in the Cahokian world

Melissa R. Baltus, Sarah E. Baires

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Power in ancient eastern North America cannot be segregated a priori into political, social, and religious dimensions. Rather, it was a commonly dispersed attribute of human/non-human social fields that might be transferred, gathered, embodied, or emplaced. Thus, political power was realized, at least in part, through socio-religious practices involving ancestors, elements, and otherworldly forces. Deconstructing the dichotomy of religion and politics, we focus on practices of material manipulation, burning, and burial at and around the eleventh- and twelfth-century complex of Cahokia along the Mississippi River. Specifically, we detail a number of contexts where temple buildings, human remains, and objects were transubstantiated, especially through burning, and hence their power transformed. Persons were constructed, places of power were built, political agents were defined, and enemies were eliminated through fire and earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-192
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Social Archaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • ISAS
  • fire
  • Cahokia
  • power
  • materiality
  • religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology


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