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Archaeology & History

Cahokia wasn't actually a 'lost civilization'

By T.K. Randall
February 5, 2020 · Comment icon 4 comments

The city's mounds remain a popular tourist attraction. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Skubasteve834
The inhabitants of the pre-Columbian Native American city did disappear for a time, but then they came back.
The vast city, which was once home to the Mississippian indigenous culture, has long been surrounded in mystery and intrigue due to its inhabitants' disappearance in the mid 1300s.

The abandonment of the city - which lasted from around 1450 to 1550 CE - was thought to have been driven by factors such as drought, flooding, climate change and resource shortages.

Now however, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley have shed new light on the enigma by revealing that the city's people may not have actually 'disappeared' at all because they returned to live there again not long afterwards.
It wasn't until the beginning of the 18th Century - long after the arrival of European settlers - that the city's population began to decline again.

The new study involved analyzing the molecular signatures (or stanols) of human faeces in the local sediment. The more stanols they found, the larger the local population would have been.

"It is important to note that the depopulation of Cahokia in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries was not the end of an indigenous presence in the Horseshoe Lake watershed, despite a lack of archaeological evidence and research emphasis on Mississippian occupations," the study authors wrote.

"By acknowledging a repopulation following the Mississippian decline, we move closer to a narrative of native persistence over disappearance."

Source: Science Alert | Comments (4)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Piney 4 years ago
The Illini were part of the Hopewell Horizon and related to the Fort Ancient Culture. They were probably the original residents. What happened in Cahokia was Algonquians learned fast why not to build a city and went back to agro-foresty. C.G. Mann already noted this and Archaeologists knew it wasn't a "lost tribe" for about 2 decades, at least. 
Comment icon #2 Posted by Myles 4 years ago
I've been to the Cahokia Mounds park a few times.  Pretty cool place to visit if you are in the St. Louis area.    If I remember correctly, the population may have reached around 40,000 at one point.   
Comment icon #3 Posted by Eldorado 3 years ago
Whatever ultimately caused inhabitants to abandon Cahokia, it was not because they cut down too many trees, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis. Archaeologists from Arts & Sciences excavated around earthen mounds and analyzed sediment cores to test a persistent theory about the collapse of Cahokia, the pre-Columbian Native American city in southwestern Illinois that was once home to more than 15,000 people. No one knows for sure why people left Cahokia, though many environmental and social explanations have been proposed. [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by Piney 3 years ago
Correction/addition on my previous post. One theory is they are descendants of the Southern Siouians. (Osage, Kansa, Quapaw, Wichita etc.) and one group of refugees settled Aztalan in Wisconsin, tried to practice cannibalism on the locals and were rubbed out by folks who really didn't care to be eaten.  In addition, I think I stressed before that cannibalism in Native North America wasn't religious but a "political statement" telling enemies that they weren't human beings but wild animals.  

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