The sourcing and interpretation of Cahokia-style figurines in the Trans-Mississippi South and Southeast

Thomas E. Emerson, Randall E. Hughes, Mary R. Hynes, Sarah U. Wisseman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Exchange of preciosities is often considered an integral factor in the emergence of Mississippian chiefdoms, and the rise of Cahokia has been linked to such long-distance trade. We know that Cahokia was the center of production for large flint clay figurines and effigy pipes (Emerson and Hughes 2000). Similar Cahokia-style figures have been found in the Trans-Mississippi South and the Southeast. We investigated the material used to make these figures using a newly developed nondestructive PIMA SP™ spectroscopic technology to identify the stone and to determine their source location. These analyses proved that the figures were made of Missouri flint clay from quarries near St. Louis. We submit that Cahokia was the twelfth-century source for the production of these Cahokia-style figures. Outside of Cahokia the flint clay figures were primarily found in Caddoan mortuaries, reinforcing earlier evidence of a strong Cahokia-Caddoan connection. The available chronological and contextual information indicates the flint clay figures left Cahokia after it began to decline in the late thirteenth-century, through various mechanisms of extra-local exchange rather than as part of any systematic prestige-goods network. The association of these highly symbolic figures with Cahokia allows us to reevaluate the indigenous iconography and propose that many of the themes (e.g., fertility and warfare) that later appear in Eastern Woodlands native cosmology such as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex were first codified here in the twelfth-century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-313
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


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