Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Illinois Confederation Repopulated Cahokia A Century After It Collapsed

I've discussed the Mississippian culture of North America whose capital at its Y1K peak was at Cahokia, now in Southern Illinois, several times at this blog, which a press release at Science Daily sums up as follows:
In its heyday in the 1100s, Cahokia -- located in what is now southern Illinois -- was the center for Mississippian culture and home to tens of thousands of Native Americans who farmed, fished, traded and built giant ritual mounds. By the 1400s, Cahokia had been abandoned due to floods, droughts, resource scarcity and other drivers of depopulation. 
. . .  [M]any studies have focused on the reasons for Cahokia's decline, few have looked at the region following the exodus of Mississippians, whose culture is estimated to have spread through the Midwestern, Southeastern and Eastern United States from 700 A.D. to the 1500s.
But, a new study examines what happened a century after it collapsed. In a nutshell, after a century or so of abandonment, the Native American collection of tribes called the Illinois Confederation moved in for a couple of hundred years until their smaller scale and less urban civilization also collapsed. As the same press release explains (emphasis added):
[A] fresh wave of Native Americans repopulated the region in the 1500s and kept a steady presence there through the 1700s, when migrations, warfare, disease and environmental change led to a reduction in the local population. . . .  
[R]esearchers . . . analyzed fossil pollen, the remnants of ancient feces, charcoal and other clues to reconstruct a post-Mississippian lifestyle. 
Their evidence paints a picture of communities built around maize farming, bison hunting and possibly even controlled burning in the grasslands, which is consistent with the practices of a network of tribes known as the Illinois Confederation. Unlike the Mississippians who were firmly rooted in the Cahokia metropolis, the Illinois Confederation tribe members roamed further afield, tending small farms and gardens, hunting game and breaking off into smaller groups when resources became scarce[.]
The press release "politely" understates the obvious historical fact that the collapse of the Illinois Confederation was proximately caused by the influx of colonists and pioneers with roots in Europe under the organizing principles of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 adopted under the Articles of Confederation that were in place prior to the adoption of the current United States Constitution in 1789.

There were European hunters, trappers and explorers on the grounds in this part of North American (mostly French) for essentially all of the period during which the Illinois Confederation, which flourished in the post-Columbian era. But, they were thin on the ground and could co-exist with the existing inhabitants, while the settlers who began to move to Southern Illinois in the late 18th century were much more disruptive to the way of life of the existing inhabitants and over the course of a century more or less completely displaced and replaced them.

The Illinois Confederation included the Miami Indians after whom Miami University of Ohio (in and around which I grew up) and the nearby Miami River are named. The Miami Indians who were recently departed when Miami University was founded in the year 1809, but the university now has a treaty relationship with the modern Miami Indian tribe.

The paper and its abstract are as follows (emphasis added):
The occupation history of the Cahokia archaeological complex (ca. AD 1050–1400) has received significant academic attention for decades, but the subsequent repopulation of the region by indigenous peoples is poorly understood. This study presents demographic trends from a fecal stanol population reconstruction of Horseshoe Lake, Illinois, along with information from archaeological, historical, and environmental sources to provide an interpretation of post-Mississippian population change in the Cahokia region. Fecal stanol data indicate that the Cahokia region reached a population minimum by approximately AD 1400, regional population had rebounded by AD 1500, a population maximum was reached by AD 1650, and population declined again by AD 1700. The indigenous repopulation of the area coincides with environmental changes conducive to maize-based agriculture and bison-hunting subsistence practices of the Illinois Confederation. The subsequent regional depopulation corresponds to a complicated period of warfare, epidemic disease, Christianization, population movement, and environmental change in the eighteenth century. The recognition of a post-Mississippian indigenous population helps shape a narrative of Native American persistence over Native American disappearance.
A.J. White, Samuel E. Munoz, Sissel Schroeder, Lora R. Stevens. "After Cahokia: Indigenous Repopulation and Depopulation of the Horseshoe Lake Watershed AD 1400–1900." American Antiquity 1 (2020) DOI: 10.1017/aaq.2019.103

Relevant Prior Posts:

* Poverty Point, Louisiana (a possible ancestral culture to the Mississippians) (March 17, 2017).

* Cahokia Explained (December 15, 2016) (also referencing three prior posts on the subject).


Ryan said...

An interesting technique with some interesting results.

Although nothing about this "debunks the myth of Cahokia's Native American lost civilization," as the article would have it. It seems to further confirm it, showing the area was indeed depopulated for a time. The fact that a small-scale mobile culture later existed there doesn't mean the civilization of Cahokia was preserved.

And nobody who has read any Native history, even the kind written 50 years ago, believed Cahokia was a ghost town at the time of European contact. The town was named for a group, the Cahokia, who were part of the Illinois confederation, living on site in early historic times.

I wouldn't say the lead of this article is BS, but there's a detectable layer of fecal stanol in it.

capra internetensis said...


Yeah, exactly what I was thinking. Nice study, bogus framing.