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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City…
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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (Penguin… (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Timothy R. Pauketat

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2501165,473 (3.61)33
Member:lprosenbaum
Title:Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (Penguin Library of American Indian History)
Authors:Timothy R. Pauketat
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 208 pages
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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy R. Pauketat (2009)

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For a couple of hundred years between the 10th and 12th centuries a large city, planned city with monumental raised flat-topped mounds, built and inhabited by thousands, flourished along the eastern shore of the Mississippi - ancillary groupings were also scattered about in St. Louis and E. St. Louis (pretty much all destroyed). William Clark, George Catlin and other early visitors wrote of and sketched some of what they saw, but the entrenched belief of the times was that there could never have been such a thing as a 'real' city in North America, with an organized (albeit brutal in the meso-american vein) culture.
Pauketat has organized his information reasonably well, but alas, some editor has, in the new style of 'popular' anthropology, advised him to imagine scenarios, withhold tidbits to make the narrative more exciting etcetera, with the result, that it isn't until the end that he lays out neatly the points he should have made from the start. Here's why I like my information up front in a book like this..... it takes me awhile to sort out and absorb what I'm being told. I want that. I know I'm not reading a detective novel. The real 'story' here is about us and how our attitudes shape what we see and what we decide is the meaning of what we see. That tale - mostly sorry with a few bright spots - overshadowed the fact that Cahokia is astonishing to read about. Something that Pauketat calls 'the big bang' (do I sense another editor whispering in his ear?) happened around 1050 A.D. - no one knows what and we can't ever know - to draw people from all around the vicinity - to help build, to farm, and even to being within range to be chosen as a sacrificial victim for one of the Cahokian spectacles...... What is clear is that there was a craze for a game - 'Chunkey' of which, I somehow had never heard or absorbed. A game a bit like hoop and stick only you throw the hoop (a round stone with notches or a hole in it) and then you throw notched sticks (finely made, of course) after it and the scoring is done according to what matches up with what. As I read (and I'm committing the sin of imagining) it did press on my mind that most likely a truly charismatic person or family combined with the allure of this game plus the novelty of living in this new way, close together, the higher caste being supported by a peasant caste, but the peasants, perhaps, feeling they benefitted by proximity to the game, the person, the glory of it all...... Fascinating, unsettling. Even more interesting to think about is how and why it all went to pieces and where everyone went afterward, and how it changed them. If you like delving into American pre-history, this is a must-read. I can't give it more stars because the writing didn't grab me at all. Don't be put off by the lack of a zillion stars. Another reviewer notes the dearth of maps and photographs. I second that. ( )
1 vote sibyx | May 4, 2013 |
This book is, in my view, misclassified as history. It is really more about archeology: what was discovered at the Cahokia site, and some of the challenges in preserving the site. At the end, it tells us what happened to the scientists that worked there. Not, to me, a satisfying conclusion. I found the book lacked context of the broader story of Cahokia and the Plains Indians of that time. Without that context, I found the writing disjointed and sometimes hard to follow. ( )
  LynnB | Jan 19, 2013 |
Pauketat, who grew up in the St. Louis area, is now an anthropologist at the University of Illinois specializing in the Mississippian culture that developed around Cahokia around 1050. In this book, he explores both the history of Cahokia and the story of its rediscovery and excavation. That excavation revealed a large, sophisticated city with rituals, festivals, and hinterlands 4 centuries before Columbus and 5 centuries before Cortez.
Suitable for the interested general reader, the book is well written and flows easily back and forth between the distant past and the struggles of modern archaeologists to save the site. Although in the end Pauketat offers no definitive answer, he explores the origins of the Cahokia culture. He considers both the possibility that it arose from Mesoamerican influences and that it developed rapidly and almost spontaneously in the Mississippi valley.
For my tastes, I wish he had spent more time exploring the decline of Cahokia and the way it influenced many of the tribes of middle America. Nonetheless, Professor Pauketat has written an invaluable introduction to the unique city of Cahokia. ( )
  barlow304 | Apr 5, 2012 |
I will always remember my Time-Life Mysteries of the Ancient World book, which featured a misty picture of the Cahokia mounds and informed us that no one knows who built these mysterious mounds, or why, (oooOOOoooOOOOooo) before moving on to Easter Island. Either the Time-Life people were slacking off, or more discoveries have been made, because there's enough interesting information about the Cahokians to fill a (small) book.

There's still a lot of "maybe ... or then again, maybe not" going on, there is a lot of speculation, but the book contains plenty of satisfying urban planning, human sacrifice (I made notes in case the 2nd Avenue subway construction drags on too long) and iconography. As a bonus, the author deadpans his way through the recounting of the most entertaining Native American myth I have ever come across. ( )
  delphica | Nov 19, 2011 |
The Book Report: Where today sits St. Louis, Missouri, there once sat a huge Native American city we call Cahokia, absent any other name for it, relating it to a creek that flows through the five-square-mile extent of the known city and suburbs. There are Indian mounds galore here, and there even is a state park over on the Illinois side of the river. Serious archaeology has been done mostly in front of the bulldozers and the plows of farmers, developers, and the highway builders. Pauketat is one of the region's many dirt archaeologists, the guys who go out and trench interesting sites and keep uber-meticulous notes and drawings and samples of stuff. (GOD doesn't that sound like a painful bore?) Thanks to him and his colleagues, we now know that some sort of major urbanization kick hit the area in 1054 and ended in tears about 1250. Why? (On both counts.) Who? What the hell? Those are the questions raised by the archeology, and treated in concise chapters in this book.

My Review: I am not joking when I say concise. This entire book comes in at 170pp of author's text, plus 15pp of notes and an index. Not a challenging read, right? Wrong. The information conveyed in these pages, with about the expected level of grace from an academic writing about his pernickety, obsessive specialty, is rich and deep. I found myself taking week-long pauses at times, not "oh god what a slog" pauses but "...wait...what...no...wait..." pauses while my inner Bill and Ted tried to work out the IMMENSE and IMPORTANT implications of what I was learning.

Immense indeed. Native Americans are all-too-frequently hagiogrpahized as natural-world-lovin' harmony seekers. Oh really? Explain then, if you please, the six separate sites with as many as seventy sacrificed women buried in the trenches in front of which they were clubbed to death in this MATRILINEAL society? In ranks, meaning the next row stood there while the first row was clubbed to death. Why did the different-genetic-stock neighborhoods outlying Cahokia show the signs of poor diet and overwork that one expects to see in the lower classes, and that are absent from the downtowners? Why is there evidence from as far away as Wisconsin that the Cahokian religion was being proselytized and effectively forced down the throats of the locals via economic might?

Why are these Living Saints, as many counterculture woo-woos have it, suddenly shopping for shoes in the feet of clay department?

I confess that I am uber-gleeful about this. I do not subscribe to a worldview that, once upon a time, before icky-ptoo-ptoo Men got hold of things, there was a beautiful wonderful peaceful womanly world, and matrilineality is the last teensy vestige of that demi-Paradise. Ha! All these sacrifices, hugely overwhelmingly female, in a matrilineal society? Oh dear, got some blood on those girly-hands, don't we?

I also don't for a second buy the "living-in-harmony-with-Mother-Earth" story either. These folks stripped the local landscape bare and planted what supported their chosen life-style. No European involvement possible. When it all came to a halt, the violence of the Plains eternal wars began, and never ended. Massacres (google "Crow Creek" just for giggles), colonization, oh the fun that people have when the lid of powerful neighbors is lifted...all here, present and accounted for in the archeaological record!

So should you read this book? Not unless you're already interested in archeology. If you're a leftover hippie, it's likely to hurt too much. If you're wanting an overview, this ain't it. Definitely for the serious-minded reader. ( )
7 vote richardderus | Jun 14, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670020907, Hardcover)

The fascinating story of a lost city and an unprecedented civilization

Almost a thousand years ago, a Native American city flourished along the Mississippi River near what is now St. Louis. Cahokia was a thriving metropolis at its height with a population of twenty thousand, a sprawling central plaza, and scores of spectacular earthen mounds. The city gave rise to a new culture that spread across the plains; yet by 1400 it had been abandoned, leaving only the giant mounds as monuments and traces of its influence in tribes we know today.

In Cahokia, anthropologist Timothy R. Pauketat reveals the story of the city and its people as uncovered by the dramatic digs of American corn-belt archaeologists. These excavations have revealed evidence of a powerful society, including complex celestial timepieces, the remains of feasts big enough to feed thousands, and disturbing signs of large-scale human sacrifice.

Drawing on these pioneering digs and a wealth of analysis by historians and archaeologists, Pauketat provides a comprehensive picture of what's been discovered about Cahokia and how these findings have challenged our perceptions of Native Americans. Cahokia is a lively read and a compelling narrative of prehistoric America.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:13 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Almost a thousand years ago, a Native American city flourished along the Mississippi River near what is now St. Louis. Cahokia was a thriving metropolis at its height, with a population of 20,000, a sprawling central plaza, and scores of spectacular earthen mounds. The city gave rise to a new culture that spread across the plains; yet by 1400 it had been abandoned, leaving only the giant mounds as monuments, and traces of its influence in tribes we know today. Here, anthropologist Timothy R. Pauketat reveals the story of the city and its people as uncovered by American archaeologists. Their excavations have revealed evidence of a powerful society, including complex celestial timepieces, the remains of feasts big enough to feed thousands, and disturbing signs of large-scale human sacrifice. Pauketat provides a comprehensive picture of what's been discovered about Cahokia, and how these findings have challenged our perceptions of Native Americans.--From publisher description.… (more)

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