Immigrants at the Mississippian polity of Cahokia: Strontium isotope evidence for population movement

Philip A. Slater, Kristin M. Hedman, Thomas E. Emerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Archaeologists have long debated the role of regional interaction in the 11th to 14th centuries at the Mississippian polity of Cahokia. Architectural styles, exotic materials, and cultural objects provide indirect evidence for cultural interaction and ethnic and social diversity; however, identifying the movement of individuals (rather than materials) is key to our growing understanding of the population history that enabled the formation of this unique polity. This study is the first to use strontium isotope analysis (87Sr/86Sr) of human tooth enamel to identify immigrants at Cahokia. Modern and archaeological fauna were used to establish a baseline "local" range of strontium isotope ratios for the American Bottom region surrounding Cahokia. Teeth from individuals interred in diverse mortuary locations, including mounds, within this region were analyzed and compared to the local strontium isotope range to identify individuals of non-local origin. One-third of all individuals analyzed were identified as non-local, and the range and variability of their strontium ratios suggests multiple places of origin. The correlation of isotopic data with available biological and mortuary evidence allows us to examine the role of migration in the history of this Mississippian polity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-127
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Cahokia
  • Migration
  • Mississippian
  • Mound 72
  • Strontium isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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