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Title:Cahokia's origins: Religion, complexity and ridge-top mortuaries in the Mississippi River Valley
Author(s):Baires, Sarah
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Pauketat, Timothy R.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Lucero, Lisa J.; Halperin, Christina T.; Ambrose, Stanley H.
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
New Animism
Mortuary Practice
Abstract:This dissertation contextualizes religion and complexity as it influenced the emergence of the city of Cahokia through an exploration of ridge-top mortuary practices across the three precincts of Cahokia, East St. Louis and St. Louis ca. AD 1050-1200. Through the theoretical lens of relational ontology and ‘New Animism’ I investigate how Cahokia’s emergence was intrinsically tied to the practice of a new religion. Rather than focusing on religion as a product of the evolutionary development of Native American persons in North America, this study examines religion as a complexity of practices, beliefs, and places bundled with Cahokia’s emergence (sensu Pauketat 2013a). It is proposed that this religion was not a monolithic or static entity, but rather that religion was a dynamic lived component of Cahokia’s beginnings. In this study both the macro and micro scales of Cahokian mortuary practice, as an extension of religious belief, will be addressed. The aboriginal transformation of the natural landscape into a built space that foregrounds ridge-top mortuaries, associated mortuary features and the burial of the dead are explored as relational components of a new Cahokian religion. In particular, the orientation and alignment of the precinct of Downtown Cahokia will be re-analyzed with a specific focus on Cahokia’s orientation as it relates to the location of the newly discovered and excavated Rattlesnake Causeway and the ridge-top mounds located along the site axes. In addition to these lines of evidence this study also presents new data from the previous excavations conducted by Preston Holder at the small ridge-top Wilson Mound, as well as a complete analysis of the human remains excavated from this small mortuary. Through this skeletal analysis I present data on the ways Cahokians, at Wilson Mound, processed and buried human remains. I explore the process of disarticulation and the importance of the curation of the human body prior to burial. Significantly, new radiocarbon dates from both Wilson Mound and the Rattlesnake Causeway are presented providing a chronology of ridge-top mound construction and use that begins with the early Lohmann phase. Where other scholars examined ridge-tops as isolated, elite, and singular mortuary events, this analysis focuses on the relationships among these novel mounds as well as the relationships of these mounds to Cahokia’s emergence. In addition to the new data presented from Wilson Mound, Rattlesnake Mound, and the Rattlesnake Causeway this dissertation also rigorously re-analyzes previous excavations of the ridge-tops Powell, Big Mound, Cemetery Mound, Mitchell Mound, and Mound 72. This reanalysis serves to contextualize ridge-top mortuary practice across the precincts of Cahokia emphasizing the practices of mound construction and burial of the dead shared across all of these mounds. I also consider the slight deviations present at each mound, emphasizing the important historical and relational qualities of ridge-top mound construction and use. Ultimately this dissertation conveys a new picture of Cahokia’s beginnings, one that focuses on religion and complexity from a perspective that looks to the interconnectedness of landscape, practices and beliefs. This study relies heavily on deciphering the early landscape of Cahokia, how it was built, what occurred in those spaces, and how the creation of those places also created a new Cahokia.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Sarah Baires
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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