The dangers of diversity: The consolidation and dissolution of Cahokia, native North America's first urban polity

Thomas E. Emerson, Kristin M. Hedman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Explaining the enigmatic "rise and fall" of Cahokia, the first and largest native urban center in the pre-Columbian United States, has challenged archaeologists. Past explanations of its collapse have variously blamed famine, disease, nutritional stress, climate change, environmental degradation, social unrest, and warfare. Recent discussions have focused on environmental collapse as a prime factor in Cahokia's end. This chapter examines the various factors that may have placed stress on the eleventh- to early fourteenth-century inhabitants and found that the evidence for many, especially environmental collapse, are found wanting. We present new bioarchaeological evidence that demonstrates that as many as one-third of the Cahokian residents were immigrants and that these immigrants likely represented groups that were culturally, ethnically, and perhaps linguistically distinct from local populations. Given the lack of a smoking gun implicating environmental-derived factors, we posit that internal divisions among social, political, ethnic, and religious factions provide a more reasonable description of events that led to Cahokia's dissolution.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBeyond Collapse: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience, Revitalization, and Transformation in Complex Societies
PublisherSIU Press
Pages147-178
Number of pages32
ISBN (Print)978-0-8093-3400-1
StatePublished - 2015

Publication series

NameCenter for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Paper
PublisherSIU Press
Number42

Keywords

  • ISAS

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    Emerson, T. E., & Hedman, K. M. (2015). The dangers of diversity: The consolidation and dissolution of Cahokia, native North America's first urban polity. In Beyond Collapse: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience, Revitalization, and Transformation in Complex Societies (pp. 147-178). (Center for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Paper; No. 42). SIU Press. http://siupress.siu.edu/books/978-0-8093-3400-1