Week Six Reflection

A Contrast of Two Articles Regarding Cahokia

Cahokia, near current day St. Louis, has been a constant center of archaeological research for years. It is a site which is very interesting due to the fact that it seems to have been such a vast and complex culture which played out years before the appearance of Europeans. The fact that this entire settlement seemed to have disappeared has been on the minds of archaeologists for decades. These two articles describe research which has taken place at Cahokia. Each has focused on different aspects of the site and each notes different lines of evidence which archaeologists have used to understand the people who inhabited this legendary area. In both the 2000 dig and the 2013 dig, archaeologist used stratigraphy to examine the soil profiles and features, which had not been mapped previously (Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, 2000). Dr. John Kelly chose to examine a previously researched trench outside of the main stockade. Upon doing so, he also took into consideration, the context of the area. After careful searching he observed two large pre-mound pit features. Assuming the law of superposition it was determined that the artifacts discovered beneath the mound were of an earlier period. In later years, Dr. Mary Beth Trubitt examined the same dig but used electrical resistivity to determine subsurface disturbance (Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, 2000). She was able to uncover features not previously catalogued with this method. In the same way, researchers with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey have discovered a layer of burned artifacts and charcoal among the foundations of structures at the site (DePastino, 2013). Using the practice of stratigraphy, the research team uncovered soil layers above the burned ruins. These layers indicated that after what, they believe, was a devastating wide-spread fire; inhabitants neatly swept the scorched earth and cleaned the debris (DePastino, 2013). Radiocarbon dating was used at this site to come to an absolute date of 1170CE. It’s interesting to think what methods other than radiocarbon dating and electrical resistivity will reveal to us in the years ahead. At least stratigraphy has revealed evidence of the fire which might have been the beginning of the end for this vast culture.


Article 1:

DePastino, Blake. (2013). Epic Fire Marked ‘Beginning of the End’ for Ancient Culture of Cahokia, New Digs Suggest.


Article 2:

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. (2000). Summer Research Summary.


This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Ramyann Murali says:

    This is pretty cool. I didn’t know radiocarbon dating was this precise. The findings of the city’s pre-fire boundary and the use of electrical resistivity to date this disaster event is pretty neat. This might have been a truly catastrophic event. I have heard other events like the great fire of Chicago and the San Francisco earthquake that occurred long ago and I imagine it to be quite like that, in fact it likely might have been similar to the recent earthquake-tsunami near Japan that caused a reactor mal-function. Of course I have never faced an event like this and I hope I never have to. However this reminds me of when I dug up a rusted metal object from my yard and supposed it was a leftover from when the house was constructed. The use of superposition is very important for archaeologists at the dig sites, as it is a near universal rule that tells a relative date: that this object on top must be younger than that below. It is very curious that this civilization seems to have abruptly disappeared, in fact many such as the Mayans, Anasazi in the new world have done so, but I have never heard of this happening in the old world, though it likely did. It is quite interesting that Cahokia seemed to be a city with two different neighborhoods, yet when the neighborhood with the fancy elite houses and religious buildings burned they were only partially rebuilt and the other neighborhood apparently barricaded itself.

Leave a Reply