From Cahokia to Larson to Moundville
Death, World Renewal, and the Sacred in the Mississippian Social World of the Lake Prehistoric Eastern Woodlands
The orthodox view of the Mississippian social world hinges on the ideas that chiefdoms—dominance based hierarchical societies in the Eastern Woodlands of North America—vied for power, often violently bit at times cooperatively, through political and economic avenues. These chiefdoms represented something of a feudal state in prehistoric North America, which lasted up to the contact period with Europeans around 1500 A.D. In From Cahokia to Larson to Moundville, noted archaeologist A. Martin Byers challenges these assumptions and offers a contrasting view by deconstructing the chiefdom model and offering instead an autonomous social world that focused on spiritual renewal and sacred rituals. Byers presents his case through the archaeological record of Cahokia, Larson, and Moundville’s monumental earthworks and, in doing so, reveals the Mississippian social community to be more complex, and more cooperative, than previously envisioned.
A. Martin Byers, now retired, was a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University in Montreal.