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Society for American Archaeology
Rethinking the Ramey State: Was Cahokia the Center of a Theater State?
Author(s): Julie Zimmermann Holt
Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Apr., 2009), pp. 231-254
Published by: Society for American Archaeology
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Julie Zimmermann Holt
often portray Cahokia as the center of a chiefdom. A minority view is that Cahokia was the center of a state.
These competing views are considered here, and an alternative model ispresented, that Cahokia might be considered the
center of a theater state. This model agrees with other models that Cahokia was an economic and political center, but also
role as a center of ritual. In the theater state model, thepower of a state lies more in its ceremonies
emphasizes Cahokia's
than in its armies. People came to Cahokia, helping to build itand feed it,not because theywere coerced but because they
to be part of the drama. This view of Cahokia
is not presented in order to replace all other models but, rather, to
to rethink what Cahokia might have been like. Geertz 's theater state model suggests an alterna
stimulate archaeologists
tive, non-Western view of the state thatmight be useful in reconsidering
other archaeological
complex societies as well.
los arque?logos pintan Cahokia como sifuera un centro de grandes caciques. Una pequena minoridad dice
que era el pueblo central y el asiento del estado. Se consideran ambos puntos de vista, y tambien se presenta otro modelo,
donde se consideraria Cahokia como el centro de un estado teatro. Este modelo como los otros modelos describen Cahokia
como un centro econ?mico y politico, pero de m?s importancia, Cahokia era un centro ritual. En el modelo teatro estado, el
poder del estado se concentra m?s en las ceremonias que en los ejercitos. Vino la gente a Cahokia ayundando a construirla y
alimentarla, no porque vinieron a fuerza sino porque querian serparte del drama. No se presenta estd interpretaci?n de Cahokia
de lo que podria haber sido
para reemplazar todos los otros modelos, sino para estimular la interpretaci?n arqueol?gica
Cahokia. El modelo teatro-estado de Geertz sugiere una vision alternativa y no occidental del estado, una vision que podria
ser ?til al reevaluar otras complejas sociedades arqueol?gicas
|hecontemporary significance ofCahokia is
international in scale: UNESCO
.A. deemed Cahokia a World Heritage Site
because of its "outstanding universal value." The
site is the largestarchaeological sitenorthofMex
ico by any measure used. Such measures might
include the area of the site, the number of people
who lived at the site, thenumber of earthenmounds
built at the site, or the size ofMonks Mound,
Cahokia's largestmound, which stands at over 30
m talland covers approximately 17 acres at itsbase
(Dalan et al. 2003; Fowler 1997). Ifwe consider
thedifficultyindrawing a clear boundary between
Fortier 2007). The Mississippi River separatedEast
St. Louis and Cahokia from theMississippian
mound center at St. Louis, which had approxi
mately 25 mounds, but perhaps thatsite too should
be considered part of the same cultural phenome
non (cf. Pauketat 2004). Unfortunately, all the
mounds in St. Louis and East St. Louis have been
destroyed, at least above ground (see Fortier 2007;
Kelly 1994; Pauketat 2005), andwe will never fully
Cahokia, which had as many as 120mounds, and
the neighboring East St. Louis site, which had
approximately 50 mounds, we begin to realize the
understand the relationship between these sites.
More fortunately, the state of Illinois owns the
"downtown" portion of Cahokia and has an active
program topurchase more land in itsvicinity.The
InterpretiveCenter at Cahokia Mounds State His
enormityof this archaeological phenomenon (see
Kelly 1994:Figure 1;Milner 1998:Figure 1.1;
Pauketat 1994:Figure 1.1, 2004:Figure 4.2; cf.
Julie Zimmermann
toric Site receives over 300,000 visitors per year,
includingvisitors from78 foreigncountries in 1996
(Dalan et al. 2003:12). This attention clearly
demonstrates the international significance of the
site in thepresent.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville,
of Anthropology, Edwardsville,
([email protected])
American Antiquity 74(2), 2009, pp. 231-254
by the Society forAmerican Archaeology
Copyright ?2009
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74, No. 2,2009
The prehistoric significance of Cahokia is less
clear.While many models of Cahokia have con
sidered the site tobe thecenter of a chiefdom (e.g.,
Milner 1990, 1998; Pauketat 1991, 1994), a few
tion of Ramey potterymarks the spatial extent of
Cahokia's power and influence.
Gibbon (1974) proposes thattheRed Wing area
ofMinnesota became incorporated on some level
"900 pound gorilla" of theMississippian world.
Most Mississippian societies,which were laterand
significantlysmaller thanCahokia in scale, are con
sidered chiefdoms. Is itreasonable to thinkthatthe
900 lb gorilla was somethingmore than the sim
as a center and the spread of influence from
Cahokia into the Upper Midwest. Comparing
Cahokia toTeotihuac?n, Gibbon hypothesizes that
into theRamey State, which he suggests was a
archaeologists have suggested thatCahokia was
instead thecapital of the "Ramey State" (e.g.,Gib
"theocratic state" borrowing a model proposed by
bon 1974; O'Brien 1989, 1991). At a recent con Wheatley (1970, 1971).Within such a state, reli
ference onMississippian polities, common themes gious institutionsdominate economic institutions;
of discussion were power and ritual, which often cities are ceremonial, administrative, and political
seemed to be presented as opposing theoretical centers "diffusing traditional culture" (Gibbon
1974:132, citingRedfield and Singer 1954). Gib
positions (see Butler andWelch 2006). Itwas also
observed at this conference thatCahokia was the bon briefly examines thedevelopment of Cahokia
pler, smaller societies thatfollowed it?
An alternativemodel is offered here, Geertz's
(1980) model of a "theatre state."Geertz's analy
sis of thenineteenth-century
Balinese state suggests
that "power" and "ritual" are not in opposition;
indeed, thepower of a statecan lie in itsceremonies
more so than its armies. The source of Cahokia's
power was in itsrituals, and thatpower surely tran
scended thepower of any later
Mississippian chief
dom or othernative society northofMexico. Given
the scale and nature of Cahokia's power, Cahokia
might best be seen as a theater state.
Previous Views of Cahokia
Many researchershave stressed thecomplexity and
far-reaching influence of Cahokia (e.g., Dalan et
al. 2003; Emerson 2002; Fowler 1974; Hall 1991;
Pauketat 2007), but few have gone so faras to sug
gest that itwas the capital of a state (Gibbon 1974;
1998; O'Brien 1989; Sears 1968). The label
"Ramey State" was apparently coined by Conrad
and Harn (1972) to refer to the area theybelieved
the theocratic statecentered atCahokia was extrac
tive and used magico-religious controlswithin its
widespread exchange network.The distant reaches
of that exchange network, such as theRed Wing
area, "were inhabited by a predominantly hinter
land population, although Cahokians may have
been instrumentalin theiradministration" (Gibbon
1974:136). Gibbon suggests that disruption at
Cahokia, increasing power within distant centers,
and climatic change led to the collapse of the
Ramey State.
In her analysis ofCahokia's influence,O'Brien
(1989) has a verydifferentview of theRamey State.
She finds four common themes inhow a "state" is
1. a monopoly of the threatof theuse of legiti
mate force
2. thepresence of political-economic classes
3. thepresence of a hierarchical bureaucracy
4. thepresence of hierarchical decision-making
(with 3 settlement levels or more being crucial)
O'Brien (1989) finds evidence of all four themes
in the archaeological record of Cahokia and its
"hinterland." She considers "massive human sac
was controlled by Cahokia. Ramey Incised pottery
is the ceremonial ware at Cahokia and is found in
rifice" at Cahokia as evidence of the threatof the
use of force. In particular, some 250 people, mostly
young women, were sacrificed and interred in
various amounts throughouttheAmerican Bottom,
thebroad floodplain surroundingCahokia, and in
the uplands adjacent to theAmerican Bottom.
Ramey Incised designs are also found at scattered
Cahokia's Mound 72. Labor specialization (a pot
ter's hamlet, shell bead manufacture, etc.), lower
andmiddle-class neighborhoods atCahokia, and a
rural supporting population are evidence that
sites in theMississippi and adjacent river valleys
as farnorth asWisconsin andMinnesota and as far political-economic classes existed. Evidence of
hierarchical bureaucracy is found in elite burials,
south as southern Illinois and southern Indiana.
constructionand public structures,the
The label "Ramey State" implies
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skills necessary toplan the layout of Cahokia, and
"systematic" garbage collection at Cahokia. As
O'Brien states, "Where there are plans, there are
planners, and planners are generally bureaucrats"
(1989:283). Finally, O'Brien argues that thereare
five levels in theMississippian settlement system
in theAmerican Bottom, which constitutes evi
[O'Brien [1972], 1989,1991]. Cahokia ispor
trayedas a great and powerful place, thepre
mier site in a society thatwas organized and
ways than
operated infundamentallydifferent
itsMississippian counterparts elsewhere. It
was poised on thebrinkof becoming a state if
ithad not already arrived there [1998:10; cf.
Muller 1997].
dence of hierarchical decision making.
In subsequent work, O'Brien (1991) examines
Milner (1998) credits (or blames) work by Fowler
the economic base of the "Ramey State," looking
on Cahokia's internalstructureand on
at Cahokia's subsistence base and labor force, its (e.g., 1974)
its settlement system for inspiring thesemodels,
tradingnetwork, and evidence of tribute.Here she and he
(1990) argues that the settlementsystemof
argues thata rural supportingpopulation supplied
theAmerican Bottom is not as hierarchical as
Cahokia with food, and again she argues for evi
Fowler suggests. Whereas Fowler (cf. O'Brien
dence of craftspecialization. Exotic materials such
1989) argues thatvarying numbers ofmounds at
as shark's teeth,copper, andmarine shellwere com
sites indicate hierarchy, Milner
monly traded to Cahokia, as well as "mundane
thenumber ofmounds at a site
(1990) argues
manufacturingmaterials" such asMill Creek chert indicates site
longevity,competition, and history.
(which was used tomanufacture Mississippian
Milner (1998) argues that there are threeprimary
hoes) and salt. Bastions identifiedduring excava
problems with labeling Cahokia a state or emerg
tion at Cahokia's Tract 15B were for secure stor
ing state.First, finds atCahokia are essentially sim
age of tradegoods, according toO'Brien. Finally,
ilar to finds at otherMississippian
O'Brien defines tributeas payments made by a
thatthe amount of earthmoved inbuilding
subordinate group to a politically dominant group,
themounds atCahokia was greater thanelsewhere.
and she believes that there is evidence of tribute
Second, fewerpeople lived atCahokia than is com
made to Cahokia from places quite distant. She
monly estimated (Milner estimates thattherewere
argues thatMississippian "frontier towns,"which
only a few thousand inhabitants;more common
are typically fortified and strategically located
estimates are 10,000 or 20,000 inhabitants); there
along traderoutes, functioned toprotectgoods dur
fore, extensive taxes, trade, and tributewere not
ing transportation.Examples would includeAzta
to support them.Finally, while there is
lan, which is found on the Crawfish River in
evidence of extensive earthmovement, craftwork,
Wisconsin, so placed toprotect the tradeof copper
trade,and elites at Cahokia, thisdoes not indicate
and other northernproducts (fish, furs, and lum
thatCahokia was "politically centralized, eco
ber); and Dickson Mounds, which is found at the
nomically specialized, or aggressively expansion
confluence of theSpoon and Illinois rivers, possi
istic" (Milner 1998:13).
bly placed to protect the trade of animal products
Milner concedes that the "achievements" of
(especially meat and bison hides). These and other Cahokia were
"impressive," but he believes that
Mississippian frontiertowns typicallyhave a tem
essentially similar to those of other
ple mound; they are seen as colonies of Cahokia
large/strongchiefdoms elsewhere. He prefers to
because "there is no evidence of a localMississip
label Cahokia a "complex chiefdom" (1998:3), and
pian evolution" (O'Brien 1991:160).
a primarygoal ofhis book, appropriately titledThe
Such models of the "Ramey State," in particu
Cahokia Chiefdom, is to argue thispoint.Milner
larO'Brien's, are dismissed byMilner as "mighty
(1990) suggests thatCahokia, like othermounded
Cahokia" scenarios:
Mississippian sites, controlled the territoryonly
Conventional wisdom about the society cen
within its immediate vicinity and that itspopula
teredonCahokia is a pastiche of solid research
tionwas largely self-sufficient.
These competing models are given historical
findings,field impressions,and outrightcon
mix is
jecture.This curiouslyundifferentiated
out inargumentsfora societyat thehigh
end of theorganizational complexity spectrum
context by Pauketat (2002). He defines four "gen
erations" of Cahokia archaeology. In thefirstgen
eration, archaeologists like Griffin (e.g., 1952)
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focused on chronology and culture history. In the
second-generation synthesis,archaeologists includ
ing Fowler, Gibbon, and O'Brien looked at the
organization and influence of Cahokia with the
general view thatCahokia was internallycomplex.
In the third-generationsynthesis,cultural resource
management provided a new wealth of compara
tive data on other sites in theAmerican Bottom.
Based on this new view from the "periphery,"
archaeologists such as Milner began to question
earlier claims of Cahokia's complexity and influ
ence. The fourth-generation synthesis has come
about since 1990 due to investigations at Cahokia
itself,includingboth new excavations and reanaly
sis of previously excavated materials. Pauketat
points out that these new investigationshave made
itpossible tocompare developments atCahokia and
74, No. 2,2009
eliteswere themovers and shakersbehind thiscoa
lescence, althoughmore recentlyhe has noted that
"Mississippian farmershad agency," too (2003:56).
A new view of Cahokia is presented by Byers
(2006), who would seem to take the "downsized"
view to a new extreme. Byers sees no centralized
hierarchy leadingCahokia, not even thatof a chief
dom much less thatof a state; instead,he envisions
a "heterarchy" at Cahokia. Instead of "chiefs and
chiefdoms" Byers sees "clans and cults organized
into complex settlement arrangements based on
mutual alliances and enmities and having social
structuresbased on mutual autonomy of responsi
ble parties who interact through collective con
(2006:xiii). Byers likens Cahokia to a shopping
mall, where clans and cults came to conduct their
other sites in theAmerican Bottom for the first ritualswith the same autonomy thatshoppingmall
time. "Theoretically speaking," Pauketat writes, merchants and shoppers have today.
Pauketat (2004) would agree with Byers that
"the fourth-generationview is a returnto a histor
there is evidence of heterarchy at Cahokia, but he
ical perspective, but one thatnow highlightshuman
agency and the two-way 'negotiations' of culture"
(2002:150). And so, thependulum swings.
Pauketat (2002) includes his own work inboth
the third-generationand thefourth-generationsyn
theses. In his earlierwork (e.g., 1991) he charac
terizesCahokia as a chiefdom or "prestate" society.
In a more recent publication, Pauketat refers to
as a "city" thatwas involved in "state
making," but he suggests that itwas not "a state in
argues thathierarchy and hegemony existed there
alongside heterarchy. Indeed, Pauketat and Emer
son (1999) argue that community was used at
tomask hegemony. In contrast toByers
(2006), however, most contemporary archaeolo
gists writing about Cahokia operate under the
assumption that itwas the center of a chiefdom
(e.g., Beck 2006; Dalan
et al. 2003; Emerson
1997a;Finney2000;Kelly 2001;Mehrer 1995;
Milner 1998; Pauketat 1994; Schroeder 2004; Tru
the typical sense of thatword" (2004:168). Most
bitt 2000). Of these, probably none is as vocifer
ous as Milner in explicitly arguing against the
"chiefdom" and "state" are evolutionary types that notion of a "Ramey State."
should be discarded?although he referstoCahokia
Mississippian leadership and polities were the
as "statelike" and seems to prefer the term civi
topic of the 2003 Visiting Scholar Conference at
Illinois University,Carbondale (see But
lization (2007:159,17). Regardless
lerandWelch 2006). Here, too, theunderlying and
clature used, Pauketat's view of Cahokia
"consistentwith Fowler's view of Cahokia's inter unquestioned assumption seemed tobe thatallMis
nal complexity and thereforecontraryto the 'down
sissippian societies were chiefdoms, even though
itwas acknowledged thatCahokia operated on an
sized' views ofMilner (1998) andMuller (1997)"
(2002:152). He argues thatCahokia became "the
preeminent cultural center" ina "Big Bang" around
coalesced in shortorder
around a political leader, a religiousmovement, or
a kin-coalition that rapidly centralized the social
relations and political economy of theAmerican
Bottom" (2002:152). Agency is the theoretical
cal A.D.
undercurrent throughout thiswork. In Pauketat's
earlier work (e.g., 1994), a handful of motivated
entirelydifferentscale thanall otherMississippian
polities (Welch and Butler 2006; cf. Cobb 2003).
As Dalan et al. write, "Cahokia was not just a large
Mississippian site; itwas both structurallyand orga
nizationally differentfromotherMississippian cen
ters" (2003:197). Similarly,Pauketat and Emerson
state thatCahokia was a "political, economic, and
social behemoth" (1997:269). Yet they, likemost
other third-and fourth-generationCahokia archae
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ologists, refertoCahokia as a chiefdom, albeit the
"granddaddy of Mississippian
Another themeat the2003Visiting Scholar Con
ference (Butler and Welch 2006) was debate
between archaeologists who used words likepower
and domination and archaeologistswho used words
like ritual andmyth.Examples of theformerin the
Butler andWelch
volume might include Beck's
(2006) analysis
"persuasive politics and domi
nation" atCahokia andMoundville; theycertainly
would include previous works by Emerson and
Pauketat (e.g., Emerson 1997a; Emerson and
Pauketat 2002; Pauketat and Emerson 1997,1999).
An explicit example of the latterisBrown's (2006)
analysis of Mound 72 as the enactment of an
episode from theRed Horn myth (Radin 1948; also
see Brown 2003); other examples would certainly
include pioneering works by Hall (1991, 1996,
1997, etc.) and also Byers's recentbook (2006).
Two very differentworldviews seemed to be
reflected in thisdebate. As one casual observer at
theVisiting Scholar Conference noted, the con
trastingviews seemed to tellmore about thearchae
ologists than thearchaeological record. In any case,
we know as anthropologists thatit is impossible to
separate these aspects of culture; as Bailey notes,
"Traditional Osage social, political, and religious
were so highly integratedthattheycon
stituteda singleunified system" (1995:29). It seems
we need tobe reminded thatpolitics, religion, and
other cultural subsystems are integrated,perhaps
most obviously in "traditional" cultures.Power and
ritualwere certainly inseparable in the theaterstate.
The Theater State
Negara, Geertz explains in his book of the same
name,was theclassical stateof precolonial Indone
sia,what Geertz calls a "theatre state":
Negara... originallymeaning "town," isused
in Indonesian languages tomean, more or less
simultaneouslyand interchangeably,"palace,"
and again
It is, in itsbroadest sense, theword for (clas
sical) civilization, for theworld of the tradi
tionalcity,thehigh culture thatcity supported,
and the system of superordinate political
authoritycentered there. Its opposite is desa
meaning, with a similar flexibilityof ref
and sometimes
In its broadest
sense desa
theword for theworld ... of the rural settle
ment, of thepeasant, the tenant,thepolitical
the "people."
these two poles,
negara and desa, each defined in contrast to
the other, the classical polity developed and,
within thegeneral contextof... cosmology,
took itsdistinctive,not to say peculiar, form
It is easy to see the fundamental contrastbetween
"capital" and "countryside" described byGeertz in
Cahokia and its "hinterland." Cahokia, East St.
Louis, and St. Louis togetherstretchedoutmore or
less continuously fromone side of theMississippi
to theother,a stringof perhaps some 200 mounds
all together.Of the three sites, Cahokia is often
seen by archaeologists as the paramount center,
even though itmight be somewhat
arbitrary to
determine where one site ends and the next
forwhere theMississippi River
divides them (see Kelly 1994:Figure 1;Milner
1998:Figure 1.1; Pauketat 1994:Figure 1.1).
Together we might say they formed a single cen
ter (cf. Fortier 2007; Fowler 1997; Hall 2006), or
what Pauketat
(1994, 2004) calls a "central
political-administrative complex" (also see Emer
son 2002), even iftheirconjoining is to some extent
the resultof several centuries of prehistoric subur
ban sprawl.
Smaller mounded sites in theAmerican Bot
tom, and laterMississippian centers of theSouth
east for thatmatter, might have had more in
common with nonmounded villages and farmsteads
than theyhad with Cahokia. Surely, Cahokia was
perceived as "town" in contrast to the "country
side,"whether one thinks 16,000 people (Pauketat
2003; Pauketat and Lopinot 1997) or only a "few"
thousand people lived at Cahokia (Milner 1998).
Cahokia was also surelyperceived as the "capital"
in contrast to the "rural settlement"or "governed
area"?given thatthepopulation ofCahokia's hin
terland surelyhelped build itand probably helped
feed it (e.g., Dalan 1997; Kelly 1997; Lopinot
1997). Cahokia would have been the "capital" of
"civilization" and "high culture" in thearea,where
people came to participate in ceremonies, rituals,
and feasts (e.g., Kelly 2001; Pauketat 2002).
Cahokia was as surely the center of "political
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authority"as outlying settlementswere home to the
"people" (e.g., Emerson 1997a, 1997b; Pauketat
It seems therecan be only one possible sticking
point in this initialcomparison between negara and
Cahokia also a "state"? Geertz
writes thattherewere hundreds ifnot thousands of
negaras in Indonesia over time, as "kingdoms of
various dimensions and durability rose, intrigued,
fought, and fell in a steady, broadening stream"
States coalesced and collapsed, "an
of localized, fragile, loosely inter
related pettyprincipalities" (Geertz 1980:4). Here,
then, is a difference between Cahokia and the
negaras of Indonesia: therewas only one Cahokia.
The "negara" at Cahokia lasted a few centuries.
Nothing like it in scale or complexity followed else
where in theMississippian world. Does itsunique
ness make the developments at Cahokia
significant?To the contrary,the fact that it stands
out in such contrast to the historically observed
Mississippian chiefdoms of theSoutheast suggests
thatCahokia was more thana chiefdorn?although
perhaps just as localized and fragile as any Indone
sian negara.
Geertz suggests thatthe theaterstateof Indone
sia was not so much about government as itwas
about spectacle and ceremony: "Court ceremoni
alism was the driving force of court politics; and
mass ritual was not a device to shore up the state,
but rather the state, even in itsfinal gasp, was a
device for the enactment of mass ritual. Power
served pomp, not pomp power" (1980:13). We can
again see parallels with Cahokia. Archaeologists
may debate how much power Cahokia had, but no
one debates thatpowerful ceremonies took place
at Cahokia. Dramatic examples would include
mass human sacrifice atMound 72?quite a spec
tacle even though the sacrifices took place on sev
eral occasions, as Milner (1998) points out (cf.
Pauketat 2004). Rituals like this signal the great
"power a few highly ranked individuals held over
the lives of some people," as Milner (1998:136)
acknowledges. Geertz's model of the theater state
suggests that rituals like this were what gave
Cahokia power. Rituals thatincludedmound build
ing and human sacrifice drew people toCahokia;
theydid not need to be coerced (cf. Byers 2006;
Hall 2006; Pauketat 1998a). They wanted tobe part
of the spectacle.
74, No. 2,2009
The power of the Indonesian theater statewas
not about how much land was controlled; itwas
about the loyalty, support, and deference of the
state's supporters.Geertz writes, "Political power
inhered less inproperty than inpeople; was amat
terof theaccumulation of prestige, not of territory"
(1980:24). These people were needed "for staterit
ual and, what was really the same thing,forwar
fare" (Geertz
controlled a huge territory,but the prestige of
Cahokia is surely indicated by thepresence of arti
factsmade at Cahokia or in theCahokia style at
sites hundreds ofmiles away fromCahokia (e.g.,
see Hall 1991; Kelly 1991). Although thepalisade
at Cahokia might suggest warfare (Trubitt2003),
there is little if any evidence of actual warfare at
Cahokia. Fertilityratherthanwar symbolism seems
to dominate Cahokian ideology (e.g., Emerson
1989, 1997c; Emerson et al. 2000; Johannessen
1993; Pauketat and Emerson 1997). However, war
symbolism becomes more prominent afterA.D.
1200 (see Brown and Kelly 2000), around the time
that thepalisade was built (Trubitt2003). The pal
isade andwar symbolismmight suggest, therefore,
thatwarfare became important afterA.D. 1200.
Trubitt (2003) suggests thatwarfare at Cahokia
was about the accumulation of social prestige, as
itwas inBali. Iwould suggest furtherthatwarfare
at Cahokia may have been ritualized; similarly,
Brown and Dye argue that "trophymotifs served
not only as a symbol of success at war but as a
for specific mythic narratives"
see Brown 2007). Given the link
between warfare andmourning among "all Indian
societies in themidcontinental United States" (Hall
1998:57), itwould be surprising if ritualwarfare
were not part of mourning rituals at Cahokia. In
any case, there is no evidence at Cahokia of war
fare over territory (cf. Trubitt 2003), although
Pauketat (2007) suggests thatCahokia could have
had a standing army.
The ruling class of the Indonesian theater state
was a hereditary elite, but not all elites were eligi
ble to be rulers. The caste system described by
Geertz forBali was complex:
InWeberian terms,Sudras could achieve the
power necessary fortheestablishmentof effec
tive authority,but inevitably lacked the trap
pings of moral qualification which are also
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for such an establishment;
Brahmanas had the qualifications in full
degree, were in fact thepurest embodiments
of cultural
but could
not achieve
the requisite power. Only the Satrias and
Wesias were possessed of one and could
acquire theother so as toattaingenuine author
ity, substantial legitimacy, and become the
pivot upon which the entire system?priests,
turned [1980:27].
These various elites had differenthereditaryclaims
to power, butGeertz argues that theyhad to com
petewith one another?through rituals?to achieve
the fullpotential of theirpower.Was theclass sys
tem at Cahokia as complicated as the Indonesian
system described by Geertz? The Natchez, a his
Mississippian group of theSoutheast, has been
used as amodel forclass structureatCahokia (e.g.,
see theCahokia Mounds InterpretiveCenter). The
Natchez social hierarchywas multitiered and com
plex, with the "Great Sun" at its apex (Swanton
1911). To extend our ethnographic comparison to
thewest, Hall (2006) suggests thatsouthernSiouan
ranking,both within and between clans, was also
multitiered and complex.1 Clearly therewas a social
hierarchy atCahokia (e.g., Emerson 1997a; Emer
son,Hargrave, andHedman 2003; Goldstein 2000;
Hall 2006; Pauketat 1994;Wilson et al. 2006), and
most archaeologists would agree thatCahokia was
State?Geertz writes thattherewere twobasic oblig
two were
but analogues,
ritual service
and military
Beyond these obligations, which could of
be onerous
or a slave. He
the kawula was not
not a tenant, a serf, a servant,
not even
was stagehand, spear carrier,and claqueur in
an endless political opera [1980:65].
Peasants inBali were sometimes tenants,but to a
differentlord;peasants also paid taxes,but the taxes
theypaid (husked rice at harvest time, for exam
ple) might go toyet another lord.Geertz concludes,
"There was no unitary government,weak or pow
erful,over thewhole realm at all. There was merely
a knottedweb of specific claims usually acknowl
edged" (1980:68).
There is no way to know with certainty if the
web of claims ingreaterCahokia was quite so knot
ted,but otherwise, it is again easy to see parallels.
The commoners, themajority of thepopulation in
theAmerican Bottom, surely gave ritual service,
forexample, by providing labor in theconstruction
ofmounds and plazas atCahokia (see Dalan 1997;
Dalan et al. 2003). Given the likelihood that the
same workers also built themounds and plazas of
East St. Louis (Forcier 2007) and otherAmerican
Bottom centers, then the claims on their service
may indeed have been quite knotted. Ifritualwar
fare was practiced in some form at Cahokia as
might be indicated by war imagery found there
ruledby a hereditaryelite (e.g., Fowler et al. 1999).
That elites used rituals to compete forpower could
be indicated by the numbers or varying size of
(Emerson 1982,1989), it is reasonable to imagine
mounds found in theAmerican Bottom (e.g., Beck
that commoners provided this service also. It is
2006; Milner 1990). Dalan et al. document that
also plausible that the farming commoners of the
mounds closest toMonks Mound were "on the
American Bottom gave a portion of their
maize har
small side, taking no risk at competing with the
vest toCahokia (Pauketat 1991, 1994, 2004).
largestmonument at the site" (2003:92). Other
Hall states that for theOmaha "religion pro
mounds at Cahokia, East St. Louis, St. Louis, and
vided a fabric of privileges and obligations that
othermound centers in theAmerican Bottom were
bound society together and countered tendencies
large byMississippian standards but only a frac
toward segmentation" (2006:194). We can hypoth
tionof the size ofMonks Mound (cf.Milner 2003).
esize that similar threads tiedCahokians together
Knight argues that
Mississippian platformmounds
and that in return for their services, commoners
were "objects of sacred
display" (1986:678). If
received both tangible and intangiblebenefits.Mil
Cahokian mounds were sacred icons (Knight 1986)
ner (2003) notes that commoners had access to
and Cahokian elites competed through rituals,
of the same typesof artifactsthatelites had,
mound building would have been a likely form of many
but of lesser quantity and quality. Similarly,Pauke
elite competition.
tat (2004) finds thatfarmers in theupland villages
Within the caste system,what were theobliga
east of theAmerican Bottom had access to "elite"
tions of peasants to elites in the Indonesian theater
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goods, but in smaller amounts thanfloodplain farm
ers,who in turnhad less access to valuables than
residents ofCahokia. Giving commoners access to
items such as marine shell beads may have been
yet anotherway of binding society togetheror of
attracting people to the theater at Cahokia. Tru
bitt's (2000) observation of increasing elite control
over shell artifactproduction through timemight
suggest that "door prizes" were less necessary to
attract participants later in Cahokia's history, or
74, No. 2,2009
state ceremonials
of classical
metaphysical theatre: theatre designed to
express a view of theultimate nature of real
ityand, at the same time,to shape theexisting
conditions of life to be consonant with that
reality; that is, theatretopresent an ontology
and,by presentingit,tomake ithappen?make
itactual [1980:104].
In Bali, state leaders as actors in this theater leapt
alive into flames to demonstrate their social rank
what Beck (2006) interprets as a shift from a
and spiritual power. The rituals that took place at
"group-building" toa "group-distancing" strategy. Cahokia's Mound 72 were
surely as powerful and
Alternatively, if the benefits to commoners did
dramatic (e.g., Goldstein 2000; Pauketat 2004;
include intangibles, then perhaps through time
Porubcan 2000). Fowler, who excavatedMound 72,
"door prizes" became less importantthanbenefits
makes an analogy toNatchez mortuary practices,
(such as blessings or anointing), which do not so
suggesting thatthemortuary features inMound 72
readily leave an archaeological signature.
are those of a powerful leader ofCahokia who was
Beyond providing services and taxes, villagers
buriedwithmultiple retainers,with additionalmass
seem tohave been fairlyautonomous in theIndone
sacrificesmade at various times thereafter(Fowler
sian theaterstate,and itseems reasonable toassume
et al. 1999). In contrast,Brown (2003) suggests that
Mississippian villagers were too. InBali, how
theprimaryburial inMound 72 took place in a rit
ever, therewas also a "rice-field cult," a coordina
ual reenactment of the Red Horn myth (Radin
tion of labor that"enabled theBalinese irrigation
system towork and which gave itform and order"
Hall's (1997) description of a historic Skiri
(Geertz 1980:77-78). No "intensive applications of Pawnee version of theMesoamerican arrow sacri
coercive power froma centralized state"were nec
fice indicates thatitwas also dramatic, since itusu
essary (Geertz 1980:82) because labor was orga
ally entailed shooting a "young maiden" through
nized through a ceremonial system of ritual
theheartwith an arrow.Hall (personal communi
obligations. In theAmerican Bottom, therewas no
cation 2007) suggests that the Skiri acquired this
need for irrigation,but ithas been hypothesized that
ritual fromCahokia, although its ultimate origins
ridged fieldswere constructed (Fowler 1969,1992).
areMesoamerican. The occasions ofmass human
I have suggested elsewhere thatmaize was grown
sacrifice (or "scheduled death," to use Hall's ter
in communal fields using communal labor in the
minology) atCahokia's Mound 72 would have been
American Bottom (Holt 1996; cf. Lopinot 1997).
even more dramatic, given that these involved the
Maize was grown in townfields by historic south
sacrificeof asmany as 53 individuals at once. Like
eastern Indians, with both men and women con
wise, theburial of fourheadless, handless men also
tributinglabor (Swanton 1946). The presence of
suggests dramatic ritual sacrifice. Fowler et al.
maize in "communal" features on American Bot
(1999) suggest that the four sacrificedmen repre
tom sites (cf.Hall 1996) and shiftsinfaunal exploita
sented the four cardinal directions. Hall (2000,
tionmight suggest that thiswas thepractice in the
2006) concurs, interpretingthese four (and a sim
lateprehistoricAmerican Bottom also (Holt 1996).
ilarburial atDickson Mounds) as evidence of the
Coordination of such labor is likely,andwhether or
Green Corn ceremony,which was practiced by his
not this laborwas organized throughritual obliga
toric southeastern groups as both a fertility(first
tions, there is no evidence that itwas coerced.
fruits) and world-renewal ritual.
To reiterate, though, the real power of the
Rituals that took place at Cahokia's wood
Indonesian theaterstatewas in itsrituals. "The cer
henges were probably also dramatic events.
emonial lifeof theclassical negara," Geertz writes,
Although these circles of posts are interpretedas
"was as much a formof rhetoricas itwas of devo
astronomical and calendrical devices, these and
tion,a florid,boasting assertion of spiritualpower"
single posts found atCahokia may have also served
(1980:102). Geertz continues:
as markers or other functions (Fowler 1996; Hall
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2004; Smith 1992;Wittry 1996;Young and Fowler
2000). Hall (1996) notes thatSun Dance lodges,
likeCahokia's wood henges, are circularwith a cen
tralpole (cf.Kehoe 2002). Caddoan speakers of
East Texas built circles of poles forritualpurposes,
including fallharvest festivals.Sacred poles among
historically known groups such as theOmaha were
multipurpose; for example, they symbolized the
authorityof chiefs and were probably used in ear
lier times inmourning rituals (Hall 1997). An
Omaha myth states thatthe treecut for theSacred
Pole was attacked like an enemy; thepole was later
referredto as a human being, and a scalp was hung
fromits top togive ithair (Hall 1997). Hudson notes
thatCreek "slave posts" were also "decorated with
the scalps of slain enemies, and prisoners of war
were sometimes tied to them.The skulls of slain
enemies were sometimes placed on top of these
posts" (1976:221). Similarly, an image fromLe
Moyne's visit toFlorida in 1564 shows "Indians"
seated in a semicircle facing a semicircle of posts
(Lorant 1946:67). In thecenterof thecircle formed
by posts and people, a man dances, accompanied
by threemen playing drum and rattles; from each
post hangs a scalp, a leg, or an arm. Le Moyne
describes the scene as a ceremony to celebrate a
victory over enemies.
Historic evidence such as theSun Dance ritual,
theOmaha myth, and Le Moyne's illustrationsug
gest thatrituals undertaken at Cahokia's wood
henges and other sacred poles in thepast were not
direct thepowers of nature intotheheartof thecom
munity" (Hall 1996:125). Indeed, such circlesmay
have symbolized nothing less thanthecosmos (e.g.,
Fowler 1996; Hall 1996).
Rituals are also indicated by Mississippian
Long-Nosed God masks and Cahokian figurines of
redMissouri flintclay.Hall (1991,1997,2006) sug
gests that theLong-Nosed God masks symbolize
theRed Horn myth (Radin 1948): Red Horn is also
earrings, and the tinyMississippian "masks" that
look like faces were actually worn as earrings or
pendants. Hall believes that these "masks" were
used in adoption rituals that functioned to create
fictional kinship tiesbetween groups, similar to the
historic calumet ceremony. Although Hall (see
1991:Figure 1.7) notes thatno Long-Nosed God
masks have been found atCahokia itself,theyhave
been found nearby, and theirdistributionmore or
less coincides with thedistributionofRamey pot
Hall suggests themasks were distributedfrom
Cahokia, noting that hundreds of peace medals
were distributed fromWashington, D.C., yet none
has been found in excavations there.Similarly,fig
urines carved of redMissouri flintclay are believed
tohave been made atCahokia and distributed from
there(Emerson 1997a; Emerson andHughes 2000;
Emerson, Hughes, et al. 2003), although none has
been found at Cahokia itself; these toomay have
symbolized scenes from theRed Horn (Morning
Star)myth (Reilly 2004). However, whereas Long
masks have a distributiongenerally northof
takenbyNew Agers who gather on solsticemorn
Cahokia, theflintclay figurines tend tohave amore
Most flintclay figurineshave
ingsatCahokia today.Evidence ofritual atCahokia
like thatdepicted by Le Moyne comes from a pit been found in thegreaterAmerican Bottom around
excavated inCahokia's Tract 15A, located on the Cahokia, while a number have been found at Spiro,
edge ofWoodhenges III andV (Circles 2 and 3; cf. and single specimens have been found at other sites
in theSoutheast (Emerson andHughes 2000; Emer
Wittry 1996). That pit contained human arm and
legbones, probably
Hughes, et al. 2003). If Long-Nosed God
all from different individuals (Pauketat 1998b; masks were used in adoption rituals, perhaps
Young and Fowler 2000).2 If scalps decorated the Cahokian flintclay figurineswere too, since there
posts, of course theywould not be preserved in the is convincing evidence that both represent the
archaeological record.Thus, itis likely thatsolstice
rituals took place at Cahokia's wood henges, but
these and other posts at Cahokia might have also
Morning Starmyth. In supportof thisnotion,Reilly
(2004) points out thatmany figurineswere recon
figured as pipes (cf. the calumet pipe) and were
served functions inmourning, warfare, and other found far fromCahokia. Like the calumet cere
rituals (cf. Hall 1997, 1998). Hall suggests that mony, adoption ritualswould have been important
Cahokia's wood henges served not only as passive
in integratingthewidespread peoples of theRamey
astronomical observatories; they also served as
State (cf.Pauketat 2004).
Another ritual that took place in the plazas of
symbolicworld centers and "active instrumentsto
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Cahokia is represented by chunkey stones,which
are occasional finds at sites in theAmerican Bot
tom (Koldehoff andKassly-Kane 1995).An unusu
ally large cache of 15 chunkey stones along with
remains of possible chunkey equipmentwere found
inCahokia's Mound 72 (Brown 2003; Fowler et
74, No. 2,2009
surely asmeaningful in surely as many ways (e.g.,
Brown and Kelly 2000; Emerson 1989, 1997c;
Emerson et al. 2000). The foregoing discussion of
rituals atCahokia illustratesthatwe can attempt to
get at some of thesemeanings throughcomparison
with ethnohistoricNative American mythology, as
al. 1999). In addition,Wittry (1996) suggests that Hall (e.g., 1997) and Brown (e.g., 2007), forexam
some of theposts excavated inCahokia's Tract 15A
ple, have done quite convincingly.Nevertheless, we
were chunkey yardmarkers. Chunkey was a game will never understand all of themeanings Cahokian
played by southeastern Indians, but it is safe to say
that itwas more thanjust a game. Hudson suggests
thatchunkeywas "probably bound up with tradi
tional Southeastern beliefs and social alignments"
(1976:425). Mississippian gorgets engraved with
pictures of chunkey players suggest the ritual
importanceof thegame (e.g., see Brown 2007); the
chunkey game was also featured inmyths, includ
ing theRed Horn myth (Brown 2007; Radin 1948).
Hudson mentions thatCreek chunkey yards were
located in theirceremonial centers and were pub
rituals and religious symbols held?and we would
not know even ifwe did.
Geertz writes that the Balinese palace was a
temple: "The seat of theking was the axis of the
world" (1980:109). Similarly, the large structure
that stood at the top ofMonks Mound was proba
bly both a palace and a temple, and this summit
was probably theaxis ofCahokia and theCahokian
world (cf.Fowler et al. 1999; Kelly 1996; Roling
son 1996). Geertz also discusses the "sacred
mountain motif in Indie mythology (1980:114);
indeed, mountains are sacred inmany mytholo
lic places "for games, dances, ritual, and public
gies. It is easy to imagine thatCahokians built
spectacle" (1976:221). Among southeastern Indi
Mound to be their sacredmountain where
none existed in the relative flatness of
Bottom. SurelyMonks Mound with
were not buried with an individualwhen he died.
the palace-temple at its top was the axis of the
Cahokian world; moreover, climbing this sacred
Given this observation, the burial of 15 chun
would have taken participants to the
key stones inMound 72 suggests thatbeliefs
Upper World or at least closer to it.Hall (2006)
rounding chunkey changed through time.DeBoer
relates a Cheyenne myth inwhich a boy travels
(1993) has identifiedadditional evidence of change
in the archaeological record of theAmerican Bot
many miles to a mountain where men of many
nations were gathered.Was thatmythical moun
tom.DeBoer argues thatchunkey became popular
in theLate Woodland period, during which time tainMonks Mound?
Finally, we might see another parallel in the
chunkey stones are found invaried contexts, includ
center that Cahokia
ingmiddens and burials of children. Change is model of a Mississippian
became. Geertz writes that the lords of Indonesian
period; chunkey
apparent in theMississippian
stoneswere of a more standardized size and tend theater states strove constantly to conform to their
vision of a more perfect past:
to be found in elite contexts, suggesting thatMis
sissippian elites appropriated the game (cf.Kold
ehoff and Kassly-Kane
1995). Historically,
chunkey games were high-stakes gambling events;
argues thatCahokia elites regulated the
"game" so that they could control gambling,
therebycontrolling this typeof exchange. Viewing
chunkey as a ritual, thisalso suggests thatCahokia
elites took control over popular symbols (see Kold
ehoff and Kassly-Kane 1995; cf. Beck 2006).
The religious symbols of Bali are "richly poly
semic" according toGeertz (1980:105), as are reli
gious symbols anywhere. Those at Cahokia were
From themost pettyto themost high theywere
continually striving to establish, each at his
a more
truly exemplary
authenticnegara,which, if itcould notmatch
or even approachGelgel inbrilliance... could
at least seek to imitate it and so re-create, to
some degree, theradiant image of civilization
that the classic state had embodied and the
postclassic degeneration had obscured
Gelgel was a legendary court, perhaps similar to
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Camelot in itshistorical-mythical importance. In
the same senseCahokia can be seen as the"authen
ticnegara" of theMississippian world. Long after
Cahokia's demise and hundreds of miles away,
otherMississippian societiesmodeled themselves
afterCahokia (cf.Anderson 1997; Knight 1997;
Pauketat 2004, 2007). They built mounds as a
means of unifyingpeople and building community,
and their leaders lived in house-temples atop flat
toppedmounds, as theyhad at Cahokia centuries
earlier.3Similarly,Brown andKelly (2000) suggest
thattheSoutheastern Ceremonial Complex had its
origins at Cahokia (cf. Emerson, Hughes, et al.
ideological debate, is to allow most ofwhat is
most interestingabout it to escape our view
[Geertz 1980:123].
InGeertz's view, ritual in the theaterstate ispower;
ceremony is the state.
I contend thatGeertz's model of the theaterstate
fitsverywell with what we know ofCahokia. Dalan
et al. (2003) would seem to thinkso too.While they
do not discuss the theater statemodel itself, they
point out thatelements of thefour "tired" views of
the state summarized by Geertz also fitCahokia,
just as Geertz admits that theyfitBali. Dalan et al.
conclude, "We believe thatCahokia surpassed other
2003). Brown (2004) argues thatboth the artistic mound centersbecause the
populace wanted topar
styles and the canon of icons associated with this
ticipate in such great undertaking" (2003:174).
"cult" are firstvisible atCahokia. He suggests that
That is the essence of the theaterstate.
influence fromand emulation ofCahokia aremost
Thus, Dalan et al. (2003) see these four differ
evident at Spiro, Oklahoma, but they are also dis
ent types of states expressed in themonumental
cernible at Etowah, Georgia, and Moundville,
constructions Cahokia, and they believe that
In his conclusion, Geertz (1980:122) sketches
fourWestern views of the state.First, there is the
"great beast" view of the state, inwhich the state
to strike
that is, thepower of the state lies in its "threat to
harm." Then there is the "great fraud" view of the
state, in which elites demand surplus from
nonelites, using state ceremony tomystify the
extraction of that surplus. Then thereare populist
views of the state,which see the state as a formof
community cooperation; rituals thereforecelebrate
thenation's will. Finally, thereare pluralistic views
of the state,which seem tobe about rules and polit
ical competition of various interestgroups; in this
view, ritualswould seem to givemoral legitimacy
to the state's rules. Geertz writes, "In all these
views, the semiotic aspects of the state ... remain
somuch mummery. They exaggerate might, con
ceal exploitation, inflateauthority,ormoralize pro
cedure. The one thing they do not do is actuate
anything" (1980:123). Geertz admits that itwould
be very easy to fitBali into any one or all of these
models at once. After all,
no one remains dominant politically forvery
longwho cannot in some way promise vio
lence to recalcitrants,pry support frompro
ducers, portray his actions as collective
sentiment,or justifyhis decisions as ratified
practice.Yet to reduce thenegara to such tired
the worn
of European
Cahokia "surpassed othermound centers." How
ever, theydo not discuss thepossibility thatCahokia
was the center of a state; instead, they refer to
Geertz's models of the state as models of "power
relationships" (2003:173) when theyapply themto
Cahokia. These models of the statefitCahokia?
the logical conclusion seems tobe thatCahokia was
a state. I agree with Dalan et al. (2003) and Byers
(2006) thatpeople wanted toparticipate?because
theywanted to be part of the spectacle and the
drama ofCahokia. That iswhat a theaterstate is all
about: its rulers rule not somuch with armies but
by drawing thecrowdwillingly into the theater.The
theater statemodel is similar to themodel of the
theocratic state suggested by Gibbon (1974). Per
haps the primary difference is thatritual would
seem tobe more importantthanreligion in the the
ater state; control and coercion would seem to be
less importantthan an engaging theatricalperfor
Geertz's interpretationof nineteenth-century
Bali has been criticized. This is hardly surprising,
given thattherearemany ways to read thepast, just
as there aremany ways to read thepresent.How
ever,while critics ofGeertz's model might debate
how much power kings inBali had, theyagreewith
Geertz thatpolitics and religionwere inseparable
in precolonial Bali. For example, while Hauser
Sch?ublin critiques the theater statemodel, she
emphasizes repeatedly that separation of politics
and religion is a "European idea" (e.g., 2003:158).
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74, No. 2,2009
She furthersuggests that thenotion of the state as
a bureaucratic institution
with "uniformregulations
ern notion of the state,what Geertz refersto as "the
worn coin of European
ideological debate"
(2003:155, 157). Thus, while shemay debate the
specifics of the role of Balinese kings in control
ling irrigationsystems, shewould concur that the
I am suggesting here thatCahokia was a differ
ent kind of a state, a theater state,which built its
power and attracted its supportersnot throughwar
fare,coercion, or even "persuasive politics" (Beck
or government," "a monopoly of power," and
clearly defined boundaries is also aWestern idea
received notion of the state isEurocentric.4
Thus, I suggest thatGeertz's model of the the
ater statehas heuristic value in inspiringarchaeol
ogists to thinkabout the state differentlythanwe
usually do. The model has been applied outside Bah
by historians (e.g., Brown 1999), but it seems to
have been mostly overlooked by archaeologists: to
my knowledge this is the first time it has been
record. I think
applied to the archaeological
Geertz's theater statemodel might provide a fruit
fulway to rethinknot just Cahokia but also many
other archaeological cases that are often uncom
fortably referred to as "petty" states, "primitive"
states, "archaic" states, and the like.5That is, per
haps some societies thatdo not fitcomfortablywith
either chiefdommodels or traditional statemodels
might find a betterfitwith the theater statemodel.
The Ramey
State as Theater State
Sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly,
chiefdom models have dominated discussions of
Cahokia for the last several decades. Such models
may ormay not be adequate to capture the diver
sityofmost southeasternMississippian societies.
However, chiefdom models are not adequate to
capture the scale or complexity of Cahokia, espe
cially when we recognize itas a single entitywith
sitesatEast St.Louis and possibly St. Louis. Lately,
Pauketat (2004, 2007) has reached the same con
clusion. He suggests that greater Cahokia repre
a singular episode of pre-Columbian state
making. This is not to say thatCahokia was a
state in the typical sense of thatword (e.g.,
Feinman and Marcus
1998). Perhaps
Cahokians would have built a territorialstate
if theyhad inventedwriting or extended their
throughconquestwarfare [2004:168;
emphasis inoriginal].
The problem thatPauketat is strugglingwith here
is that the "typical sense of thatword" is aWest
2006) but by drawing them in to take part in the
drama of itsceremonies. Other archaeologists have
emphasized the power of elites at Cahokia (e.g.,
Emerson 1997a; Pauketat 1994), or they have
emphasized ritualas somethingdistinctfrompower
(e.g., Brown 2006; Byers 2006). Power and ritual
are inseparable in the theater statemodel; indeed,
politics and religion are cultural subsystems that
are inseparable in probably all cultures.
There are specific features of theBalinese state
thatobviously are not found atCahokia. For exam
ple, irrigationwas important inBali, and Bali was
a literate society.However, irrigationand writing
are by no means central toGeertz's (1980) thesis,
unlike other theoriesof cities and states (e.g.,Childe
1950;Wittfogel 1957). At any rate, I certainly do
notmean to suggest thatCahokia was just likeBali
but, rather,that the theater statemodel provides a
usefulway to rethinkCahokia. Geertz's point is that
there ismore to politics than power. He suggests
thatequating politics with power is a Eurocentric
notion, and I would agree.
Discussions of power, domination, and hege
mony have dominated interpretationsof Cahokia
for the past decade or longer (cf. Brown 2006;
Byers 2006). In his earlierworks, Pauketat hypoth
esizes how Cahokian chiefs achieved a "hegemonic
transformation,"takingcontrol ofCahokia and ulti
mately building a "Cahokian Leviathan" thatpolit
"greater Cahokia"
ically dominated
1994:168, 1998a:50). Similarly, Emerson (e.g.,
1997a) hypothesizes how the chiefs of Cahokia
gained power and built hegemony. Both Pauketat
(1994) and Emerson (1997a) build careful argu
ments relying on diverse data sets. Both conclude
that ideology was a primary means of how the
chiefs atCahokia were able tomake their"ascent"
and achieve domination over theirruralhinterland
(e.g.,Pauketat and Emerson 1997); Pauketat (1994)
even refers to a "divine chiefship."
The emphasis on ritual atCahokia as something
distinct from hierarchical power has been more
recent in thearchaeological literature(e.g., see But
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ler andWelch 2006). Brown (2003, 2006) argues
convincingly thatrituals at Cahokia do not neces
sarily indicate hierarchy or domination (cf.Byers
2006; Goldstein 2000; Milner 2003). Brown has
also described Cahokia as a "cosmic theater"
(2006:208), describing the rituals that took place
atMound 72 as "a public ceremony for a collec
tive, community-wide purpose" (2003:97). Simi
larly,Pauketat writes that some of the rituals that
took place atMound 72 were "probably public
spectacles" with a "possible theatrical aspect"
(2004:90). More forcefully,Emerson and Pauke
tatcharacterizeMound 72 as "a palimpsest of the
atrical performances" and "Cahokian theaterat its
best" (2002:115, 117). More broadly, Pauketat
writes: "Cahokia, as aMississippian mecca asso
ciated with powerful, supernaturalqualities in the
eyes of people outside theAmerican Bottom, could
have attracteddistant visitors, dignitaries, and pil
grims actively seeking to obtain or emulate what
Cahokia had tooffer" (1998a:49). Clearly, Cahokia
was a ceremonial center, or what Kehoe (2002)
termsa "theater of power"; I cannot imagine that
any archaeologist would dispute that.
Obviously, there is power inritual. I agree with
Pauketat and Emerson (e.g., 1997,1999) that ide
ology was used at Cahokia tomanipulate people,
but I do not assume as they seem to thatdomina
tion is theprimary reason for theelaboration of rit
ual at Cahokia or thatcoercion was necessary (cf.
Saitta 1999).61 agreewith Brown (e.g., 2003,2006)
thatCahokia was a theaterand thatwe can inter
pret burials inMound 72 as evidence of a cosmic
performance. Unlike Brown, however, I see hier
archical power in theceremonies thattookplace at
Cahokia,7 and I would point out (as others have)
that the scale of human sacrifice at Cahokia goes
beyond anything observed among other Native
Americans north ofMexico. Brown does not dis
cuss the litterburials thatFowler et al. (1999) inter
cion, but again other interpretationsare possible.
Emerson and Pauketat conclude, "Mound 72 isnot
thereflectionof elite power asmuch as itis thecoor
dination of power and the concomitant construc
tion of Cahokia" (2002:118). Clearly, therewas
power inCahokian rituals: theywere the founda
tionof Cahokia.
In short, the archaeological record of Cahokia
indicates something more than a chiefdom (cf.
Pauketat 2007) andmore thana ceremonial center.
Itwas clearly a "theater of power" (Kehoe 2002),
but what sort of theaterwas it?8Geertz's theater
statemodel offers an alternative view of the state
and in this an alternativeway of interpretingthe
archaeological record of Cahokia. The power and
ritual thatexisted atCahokia were on a scale unlike
thatfound in any otherMississippian
society, sup
Ramey State was a
theater state.The name "Ramey State" is appro
priate here, suggesting thatLate Woodland and
Mississippian peoples living as far north asWis
consin andMinnesota were within Cahokia's "hin
terland" (e.g., see Stoltman 2000). This is not to
suggest that these groups were directly controlled
by Cahokians but, rather,that they toowere sub
jects of the theateratCahokia in the sense thatthey
saw Cahokia as a center.
Cahokia would be considered a state by mea
sures used elsewhere (see O'Brien 1989). Do we
question the power of Cahokia because its elites
lived in structures
made of thatch?
Would we ques
tionwhether Cahokia was the capital of a state if
Monks Mound had been built of stone rather than
dirt?Would we deny that the leaders of Cahokia
were kings if theyhad leftmonuments declaring
themselvesking asMayan elites did? Kehoe (1998)
points out thatEuropean chroniclers referred to
Mississippian leaders of theSoutheast as kings
and royalty. If the leaders of thosemuch smaller
and simpler polities were seen as kings by con
pretas high-statusburials or,evenmore noteworthy, temporaryEuropean observers,who were the sub
the 157 people (mostly groups of young women)
jects of kings themselves, surely the leaders of
sacrificed and buried inmass graves inMound 72. Cahokia would have been considered kings. Sim
While I can imagine ways to fit these burials into ilarly,Hall observes,
Brown's interpretationof themain burial, at the
same time itcannot be disproved that some of the
Mound 72 burials represent sacrificed retainers
(Fowler et al. 1999). The evidence of violence in
one of themass graves could indicate thatrituals
at Cahokia may have occasionally included coer
The Indian nations amongwhom de Soto trav
eled were themost advanced inNorth Amer
from the standpoint of political
organization and much else. They could be
compared to city-states governed by all
powerful hereditary rulerswho would have
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been known as princes had the seats of their
authoritybeen located inFrance or Italy dur
ing the same century [1997:145-146].
The leaders of Cahokia would have been more
powerful than the leaders encountered by de Soto
and his colleagues. Examples of the latterinclude
the "Lady of Cofitachequi," who was carried on a
74, No. 2,2009
tution real unless people perceive it as real (see
Pauketat 2007).
In the case of Cahokia, there surely was a
bureaucracy?as O'Brien (1989) would say,where
thereare plans, thereare planners.More important
in a theater state,however, is the enduring institu
tionof ceremony.These ceremonies and rituals are
transformed into something larger than an indi
vidual, however charismatic, and larger than a kin
group.10At Cahokia, mound building, feasts, chun
littercovered with a delicate white cloth, and the
"Great Sun" of theNatchez, who was accompanied
at his death by wives, relatives, attendants, and
key, and elaborate rituals like those enacted at
many otherswho voluntarilyofferedthemselves for
Mound 72 were perhaps at firstameans to an end?
sacrifice (Hudson 1976). Given the loyalty com
a means to gain control by one or a few individu
manded by such leaders,Hudson also suggests that
als or perhaps more benignly to integrate
"at the time of de Soto, some of the Southeastern
people?but in theend theybecame the institution
Indiansmay have had what were eithervery pow
itself.Perhaps the theater state crystallized some
erful chiefdoms or perhaps very small primitive
time aroundA.D. 1050,when the "Big Bang" ush
states" (1976:203). These hierarchies began to col
ered in theMississippian period (Pauketat 1994).
lapse as European diseases spread, and theircol
A transitionof some sortsurelyoccurredwithin the
lapse was made complete when Europeans
theater state aroundA.D. 1200 at the "Moorehead
themselves invaded the land.
Moment" (Brown 2001), a time that is character
The band-tribe-chiefdom-state typology obvi
ized by significant changes including the con
ously masks significant variation (e.g., see Fein
structionof thepalisade and theelite appropriation
man and Neitzel 1984). As Kehoe points out, its
of exoticmaterials and symbolic items (Beck 2006;
"fourfold categorization obfuscates issues of
Trubitt 2000, 2003). Given significantdepopula
power" (2002:263). Pauketat (2007) and other
tion in thegreaterAmerican Bottom along with "a
criticsmight likeus todiscard the typology (which
significantlydiminished and reorganized regional
he dismisses as neoevolutionary) altogether.How
political economy" during this time (Pauketat
ever, these types thatwe have created give usmod
Cahokia's heyday as a theater
els to test and a vocabulary with which to 2004:150), perhaps
state was
communicate our thoughts about the past.What
Cahokia survived the deaths of at least several
is the difference between a very powerful chief
leaders. I would suggest that these leaders might
and a king or queen? Can we see the difference
be seen as heads of a theaterstate ratherthanchiefs
in the archaeological record (cf.Patterson 2003)?
because rituals at Cahokia were more important
Both chiefs and heads of state use religion as a
than any individual or descent group. Surely there
tool tomanipulate and control people. Both chiefs
were multiple competing descent groups atCahokia
and (usually) heads of state are supported by a
and in the surrounding region.Any one of them
powerful and influentialfamily.What, then, is the could have taken
power from another group at
difference?A decidedly Western notion might be
and the institution?that is, theceremony
thatthedifference is a bureaucracy, or perhaps the
have endured and did
and the rituals?would
difference is the presence of a standing army. I
endure. The faces and families at the top ofMonks
believe that thisnotion of the state is unnecessar
Mound may have changed through time, but still
ilyconstraining,with the result thatboth third-and
people came to Cahokia to build more mounds,
fourth-generationCahokian archaeologists hesi
have more feasts, and mourn (or celebrate) the
tate touse it in reference toCahokia.91 would sug
death of theirmost recent king or queen.
gest that themost critical difference between
chiefdom and state is thatpower in the chiefdom
Just Another Label?
relies on the chief, whereas power in the state
goes beyond the individual to the institutionof the
state?but that institution is not necessarily a
Western sense. Nor is the insti
bureaucracy in the
In summer 1991,1 was hiking through thewoods
with Rob Beck somewhere on theEast Coast?I
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thinkitwas South Carolina. Itwas hot and humid,
and we were burdened with shovels, screens, and
field kits as we traversed the hills digging shovel
tests thatyielded littlebeyond poison ivy.Despite
these conditions, Rob was talking about Missis
sippian chiefdoms with great enthusiasm. I won
1998), no southeasternMississippian site had a
population close toCahokia's.
And that is just Cahokia. What was the rela
muttered, perhaps irritablyas I slapped amosquito,
that I hated theword chiefdom.Rob's enthusiasm
was unabated as he responded, "We have to call
ruralfarmingvillages in thegreaterAmerican Bot
tommight have been considered Cahokians. There
was a significantpopulation increase not only at
useful because they conjure up a whole body of
ideas with a single word or phrase. As a teacher,
I find it useful to discuss labels like "band,"
"tribe," "chiefdom," and "state" because they suc
places including southeastMissouri and northeast
Arkansas (e.g., Pauketat 2003). Their presence
made Cahokia amultiethnic society,a characteris
dered tomyself how we could know that these
archaeological cultureswere chiefdoms. Finally, I
them something."
After a decade of teaching, I have come to
believe thatmy colleague was right. Labels are
tionship likebetween Cahokia and the sites atEast
St. Louis and St. Louis, which were also as large
as or larger thanMoundville? Were their inhabi
tantsalso considered Cahokians? Pauketat's (e.g.,
2003,2004) work suggests thateven inhabitantsat
Cahokia but also in thegreaterAmerican Bottom
at the timeofCahokia's "Big Bang." Ceramic evi
dence indicates that people who emigrated to
Cahokia and its rural villages came from distant
cinctly refer to idealized models. Of course the ticwe do not usually associate with chiefdoms.
actual case in the real
models are idealized?no
Surely, something different was happening at
world will perfectly fit the type. The type is a Cahokia. To repeat: "Cahokia was not just a large
hypothesis we can testwith real data, and we can Mississippian site; itwas both structurallyand orga
keep theparts thatfitand reject or correct theparts nizationally differentfromotherMississippian cen
ters" (Dalan etal. 2003:197).
thatdo not fit.
Because they are embedded in the notion that
I do notwant to debate whether the southeast
ern cultures of which my colleague spoke were
Cahokia was a chiefdom, I do not findmodels by
trulychiefdoms. Whether or not theywere, the Trubitt (2000) and Beck (2006) entirely convinc
label is entirely inappropriate to capture themag
ing as written.However, they are valuable in that
nitude of events that created and occurred at
theyencourage us to thinkabout how interactions
may have occurred atCahokia and about how these
commonly recognized among
systemsmay have evolved over time.Eithermodel
ologists thatCahokia operated
could, in fact,be accommodated within the theater
Mississippian societies of theSoutheast. Dalan
et al. (2003) point out thatall ofMoundville, often statemodel. As I have suggested above, "corporate"
touted as the second-largestMississippian center, and "network" strategies (Trubitt 2000) can be
would fitwithin theGrand Plaza of Cahokia. All
employed by leaders of states as well as chiefdoms
themounds atMoundville combined contain frac
(cf. Blanton et al. 1996). Likewise, "group
tion of thedirt thatwent intoMonks Mound (see
Dalan et al. 2003:Figure 18). Dalan et al. (2003)
furthersuggest thata similar level of effortwent
letus not for
into leveling theGrand Plaza?and
building" and "group-distancing" strategies could
be used by elites in either a chiefdom or a state
(Beck 2006). We can easily incorporateTrubitt's
and Beck's models within the theater statemodel
"chiefdoms" of the Southeast would surely be
human sacrifice. I am just guessing here, but all the
Pauketat (2007) has also grown frustrated
thechiefdom concept and has recentlycome to the
conclusion that it is an archaeological "delusion."
get the effortof building 119 more mounds, pal
isades, wood henges, and so on. Another measure
of comparison between Cahokia andMississippian
by looking for shifts in the strategiesused by the
leaders of theCahokia theaterstate.
sacrifices found on all the
Mississippian sites in the
Southeast would probably number less than those
found inMound 72.We might also compare pop
ulation levels at these sites: even using conserva
Pauketat's preferredparadigm, agency theory,gives
us a way to step outside theband-tribe-chiefdom
tivepopulation estimates forCahokia (e.g.,Milner
state typology entirely.Nevertheless, agency the
ory and neoevolutionarymodels are not necessarily
mutually exclusive, as previous work by Pauketat
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(e.g., 1994) has shown: one can thinkof agents as
chiefs. However, in trying to shake free of one
archaeological delusion, Pauketat (2007) has
instead fallen back upon another label, "civiliza
tion,"which inmy mind still carries thebaggage
of nineteenth-centuryunilineal evolution. I agree
with Pauketat thatCahokia was not a chiefdom.
However, to rename it a "civilization" is inmy
mind not a good solution to the problem.
O'Brien (1989, 1991) offered us a solution to
the problem nearly 20 years ago. She correctly
points out thatCahokia would be considered a state
according tocriteriaused inotherparts of theworld.
Why not here?Again the implication is thatarchae
ologists studyingCahokia have been prejudiced by
aWestern bias against architecture of earth, logs,
and thatch.However, I think that in her critique
O'Brien runs into the same problem thatPauketat
has encountered in his critique: both O'Brien and
Pauketat relyon aWestern notion of the state,with
its implication of armies and growth by military
conquest. Surely, Cahokia had warriors, but there
is little evidence of Cahokian armies marching
across the land (althoughperhaps thereis some; see
Pauketat 2007).
I believe thatO'Brien put us on theright track,
and I do not thinkthather ideas have received ade
quate attention.However, Iwould suggest the the
ater state as an alternativemodel of the state and
one that is a better fitforCahokia. It steps outside
thebox created byWestern scholars:Geertz explic
itlyrejects their"tired" notions of the state.Yes, the
leaders of a theater statemanipulate, threaten,and
con theirconstituents as any leaders do. However,
theway theydo it is not theway Western scholars
typically expect in a state.Ritual was the theater
state; the statewas a theater?and both elites and
nonelites played roles in the theaterthatwere mean
ingful to them.Both were willing participants in
the drama.
Why call Cahokia?or Bali, for thatmatter?a
theater state rather than a theater chiefdom? The
latter termmight fitmore comfortably with our
preconceived notions about people who live in
thatchhouses and would certainly inspire less crit
icism than this articlewill. However, Geertz cre
ated themodel, and I am using his term.
I think this term is absolutely appropriate from an
emic point of view in the case of Bali or from an
empathetic point of view in the case of Cahokia.
74, No. 2,2009
The Balinese considered theirleaders kings. Euro
pean accounts of southeastern cultures upon con
tact also suggest that they thoughtof their leaders
as kings and queens, since their
European observers
suspect that similar notions
of leadershipwere present at Cahokia.
Finally,my point here is not simply to reject old
labels by stickingon a new one.My point is to cri
tique existingmodels and suggest an alternative that
I thinkbetter describes Cahokia and its relation
shipswith other sites.Archaeologists who work in
other parts of theworld might also find ituseful in
reexamining their data. Thus, I offer the theater
statemodel as a hypothesis for furthertesting.My
goal is not to claim that I have climbed Monks
Mound and found the truthbut, rather,to encour
age archaeologists and anyone else who is inter
ested to rethinkCahokia. The chiefdom model is
tired at best?at least in reference to Cahokia. I
think that the theater statemodel is a good fitwith
the archaeological record as I understand it,and I
thinkthat itsheds new lighton how Cahokia might
have worked. The more I have read about Cahokia
inwriting this article, themore evidence I have
found to support the theater statemodel. Other
archaeologists will surely see existing evidence dif
ferentlyand will disagree. Future evidence might
support themodel, or itmight not. That is theway
hypothesis testingworks. Either way, rethinking
will have occurred.
The Rajah of theneighboringState died on the
20th ofDecember 1847; his body was burned
with great pomp, threeof his concubines sac
rificingthemselves in theflames. Itwas a great
day for theBalinese. Itwas some years since
theyhad had the chance ofwitnessing one of
these awful spectacles, a spectacle thatmeant
for them a holiday with an odour of sanctity
about it; and all the reigningRajahs of Bali
made a point of being present, eitherperson
ally or by proxy,and brought largefollowings.
Itwas a lovely day, and along the softand
slippery paths by the embankments which
divide the lawn-like terracesof an endless suc
cession of paddy-fields,groups ofBalinese in
festiveattire,could be seenwending theirway
to theplace ofburning.Their gay dresses stood
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out inbrightreliefagainst the tendergreen of
the ground over which they passed. They
looked littleenough like savages, but rather
like a kindly festive crowd bent upon some
bore an impress of plenty,peace, and happi
in a measure,
of civilisation.
It was
hard tobelieve thatwithin a fewmiles of such
a scene, threewomen, guiltless of any crime,
were, fortheiraffection'ssake, and in thename
of religion, to suffer themost horrible of
deaths, while thousands of theircountrymen
looked on [Helms 1882, quoted inGeertz
Add 50 women and replace the paddy fields with
maize fields, and we may begin tohave an idea of
theceremonies thattookplace atCahokia's Mound
72 some 900 years ago. Whether those young
women buried inMound 72 went voluntarily to
theirdeaths for the sake of "affection" or theywere
simply "surplus wealth" (Porubcan 2000; cf.
Pauketat 2004) we cannot know, butwe can be sure
that theywere actors in a cosmic theater (Brown
2003) and that ideology and ritualwere primary
before and arguably even after
his death. However, I think that themovement
would have happened without him?it would have
been different,but itwould have happened. Iwould
make two points. First, social conditions in the
United States were ready forKing; he would have
been less successful in another era. Second, the
civil rightsmovement did not end with his death;
themovement was larger thanKing, and theball
thathe helped set inmotion continued rollingwith
out him.
Likewise, we might argue that one or more
charismatic leaders atCahokia took charge around
the time of the so-called Big Bang ofA.D. 1050
(Pauketat 1991,1994). However, the social condi
tions of theAmerican Bottom were ready for
them?the events of theEmergent Mississippian
period prepared the scene; those individuals could
not have taken control 300 years earlier.The ritu
als were already there inone formor another; they
simply had to be put to new purpose. Moreover,
Cahokia did not die with the death of these indi
viduals. The rituals theyused tomobilize andmoti
vate people were
in the
and thereforeoutlived them?
motivators. The individual or individuals who led Mississippian period
for a fewmore generations, at least. The rituals
the people of Cahokia were surely "agents" of
became the essence of theRamey State. The sup
change,most likely supportedby an elite kin group
porters of this state did so not because theywere
(cf.Trocolli 2002), and surely theyused religion
coerced but because theywanted to takepart in the
and ritual as a tool (cf.Pauketat 1994), as didmost
drama, a grand cultural experimentunlike anything
ifnot all leaders of early states. In fact, the same
seen before or after in theirworld.
could be said of our own political leaders today.
The Ramey State collapsed byA.D. 1350 ifnot
However, Geertz's model suggests thatthe insti
sooner.There is convincing evidence thatenviron
tutionof the state ismore importantthanany indi
mental problems, some anthropogenic in origin
vidual leader. Charismatic leaders are surely
and others not, were a factor in the demise of
necessary to form a state,but they are less neces
Cahokia (e.g.,Dalan et al. 2003; but seeHall 2006).
saryas the statebecomes an institution(again, look
This highlights theultimate flaw in using religion
toour own political leaders). Our usual notionmay
tomotivate people: leaders who are supposed to
be that it is a bureaucracy of pencil pushers or an
have divine contacts lose supportwhen thingsgo
army thatforms thebasis of the institution,but that
the collapse of Cahokia, how
is a contemporary
Western notion. In a theaterstate, wrong.11 Despite
ever, the theater lived on.We can see that in the
rituals and ceremonies are the institutionand keep
templemounds of later southeastern Indians, in the
the organization going beyond the death of any
Sun Dance of laterPlains Indians, and in adoption
individual leader.
and other rituals practiced from the Southeast to
We might draw a parallel with a contemporary
the Plains. The rituals were undoubtedly trans
socialmovement, such as thecivil rightsmovement
formedwith time and space, but theydid not end
in the United States. Historians might argue
with Cahokia. If later groups like theNatchez
whether or not the civil rightsmovement would
indeed formed primitive states, as Hudson (1976)
have taken place without Martin Luther King Jr.
suggests, thenwe might go so faras to say thatthe
Clearly King was an important agent of change
state did not really die, either. In any case,
and highly influential in leading the civil rights
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Gelgel and Camelot?lived
Indeed,Cahokia lives
tion and more visitors today than ever before.
Acknowledgments. I want to acknowledge the generations of
and in the
archaeologists who have worked at Cahokia
greater American Bottom, whose dedication and hard work
have made possible everything we know (or thinkwe know)
about Cahokia. Thanks go to four anonymous reviewers,
Henry Holt, Miranda Yancey, Mark Esarey, and above all
on this article.
for providing
Robert Hall
Although their comments greatly improved the content of
this article, they are of course not to be blamed for any short
comings herein. Thanks go to JimBrown and Gayle Fritz for
sending me copies of their unpublished papers. Thanks go to
for translating the abstract into Spanish. Finally,
thanks go toKaren Blu for introducing me to negara back in
1992.1 hope I have done Geertz's work justice, but Dr. Blu
Liz Fonseca
is not to blame
if I have not!
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1. Comparison
with contact-period
groups of the
is appropriate because,
like the Natchez
they too are considered Mississippian
1976). In this sense, we might think of those later southeast
ern groups as cultural descendants or at least relatives of
However, researchers such as Hall (e.g., 1991,
and Brown (2007) argue thatCahokians were Siouan
speakers, which suggests that their cultural and perhaps
genetic descendants would be found to the west, not the
scholars today (e.g., Brown 2006; Hall
2006;Kelly 2006;Welch 2006) believethatit is appropriate
to use the ethnographic record of Siouan groups such as the
Osage, Omaha, and Ponca to interpret the archaeological
record of Cahokia.
of Tract
2. Excavation
15A and the adjacent Dunham
of some 800 Emergent
and Mississippian
features. Pauketat (1998b)
to the
assigned the pit containing human remains (Bui)
Lohmann phase, apparently based on its artifact contents (it
was not radiocarbon dated), whereas Woodhenges
III and V
(Circles 2 and 3) were assigned to the Stirling phase based on
suggest that pit Bui predates
III and V. However, samples from just eight of
radiocarbon dates. This would
the post pits in Tract
15A were radiocarbon dated (Pauketat
5.1), and although Pauketat identifies all of them
as Stirling phase, in fact they range between A.D. 890 and
1420 when calibrated. Pauketat suggests that 151 post pits not
assigned to a specific phase probably formed additional wood
henges thatwere undefined by excavators. Pauketat suggests
that these undefined wood henges also date to the Stirling
phase based on radiocarbon dating, although the post pits
and Lohmann phase arti
contained Emergent Mississippian
facts, not Stirling phase artifacts. Thus, based on the radio
carbon and artifactual evidence, the possibility of one or more
henges dating to the Lohmann phase cannot be ruled
out. Alternatively,
it is possible
if we
into Stirling phase pits. In
phase refuse washed
sum, it is possible thatpit Bui was contemporary with one or
more wood henges.
3. This is not to suggest that the earliest mound and plaza
constructions are found at Cahokia
(e.g., see Kidder 1998;
Rolingson 2002) or that any otherMississippian mound cen
ter attempted to duplicate exactly Cahokia's unique configu
ration of four plazas surrounding a central mound (e.g., Dalan
et al.
1996; Pauketat 2004). Nevertheless,
among the earliest and was clearly the most
centers. Likewise, Camelot
powerful of the Mississippian
may not have invented the round table, but Camelot's
table is the one we remember.
4. Hauser-Sch?ublin's
interpretation of the
state differs from Geertz's more in degree than in
kind, I think. She writes,
This was
a state in which the king, in cooperation
the priests, organized mass mobilizations
means of rituals and brought people?as
the "center," the state temples. There
emerged inwhich people experienced a sense of com
munity and of belonging to a principality by partici
pating in the same rituals. There they were able to
southeast. Thus many
74, No. 2,2009
that pit Bui dates to the
argument that
witness not only the basis of the king's divine power
but also how themany different and competing seg
of the state?the
contest state?were,
into a single overarching
hierarchy. This experience was certainly one of the
most important constituents of the communication
and the relationship between the ruler and his people;
itbecame com
through their?invited?participation
to themwhy they had to contribute to this
overarching community (uniting humans and gods as
well) taxes and corvee labor for a sovereign and his
priestly counterparts whom
they otherwise rarely saw
emphasis added].
the "construc
Although Hauser-Sch?ublin
sensu Appadurai
tion of 'localities'" (2003:154;
1996), we
can see fundamental similarities between her interpretation
and Geertz's
theater statemodel:
rituals are critical sources of
power in both views, and in both views participation in ritu
als was clearly voluntary and not coerced.
5. Some will probably argue that the theater state model
does not explain anything. Pauketat writes, "The 'rituality'
. . . suffers from theoretical
a 'ritual center that served to pull people into
is non-explanatory
(cf. Kelly
I assume that when he refers to "explanation"
here, Pauketat is looking for origins. Geertz (1980) does not
seem to be concerned with explaining how negara originated;
its orbit'
instead, he offers his interpretation of how the theater state
functioned in Bali. That is not to suggest that he makes any
effort to show that the functioning of the theater state was
somehow "rational."
6. For example, while acknowledging thatmembers of a
community might provide labor or surplus freely because
they are members of that community, Pauketat and Emerson
write that "it is inappropriate to ignore hegemonic processes
as if theywere nullified by communal principles. The process
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may appear intentionless, lacking exploiters or exploited, but
it does not lack power resident in representation of commu
nity" (1999:305;
emphasis in original). Their view here
that ethnographers could "purchase" rituals demonstrates that
such knowledge was not always restricted to particular kin
groups; however, Bailey notes that "Osage priests would not,
under normal conditions, have allowed an uninitiated outsider
seem to suggest that Pauketat and Emerson believe that the
people of theAmerican Bottom who provided labor and sur
seems essentially similar towhat Geertz critically refers to as
the "great fraud" view of the state (1980:122), which would
plus were dupes rather than agents. However, elsewhere
Emerson and Pauketat suggest that elites are not alone in hav
ing power; they find evidence that upland farmers "resisted"
by building theirhomes and organizing theirvillages
in pre-Mississippian
styles. Here, Emerson and Pauketat
argue that power "was enacted and embodied by all people"
In both views, there is an emphasis on power,
apparently is hegemonic in the hands of elites and
resistant in the hands of nonelites. Both views suggest under
lying themes of conflict and coercion.
states that there were people at Cahokia "who
controlled the agenda" but that "their authority
7. Brown
set and
from structural power, not from domination"
Structural power is defined (afterWolf
1999) as the power to "set the agenda." This distinction
between structural power and hierarchical power is not clear
to me,
view hierarchy does not necessarily
involve domination. Brown cites Goldstein: "That the people
in my
or group represented inMound 72 have status in the commu
would not have access to
nity is not under question?they
these rituals and to this place otherwise" (2003:88, citing
Goldstein 2000:203). Thus Brown like Goldstein does not
deny the existence of status and authority at Cahokia. His
72 are not mortuary
point is that the remains in Mound
remains reflecting the status in life or "power" of the individ
uals buried there; instead, the remains are evidence of ritual
that is essentially nonmortuary. Elsewhere Brown refers to
(Brown and Kelly 2000:484),
"chiefly power" at Cahokia
which would imply that therewere chiefs at Cahokia. This is
in contrast with Byers (2006), who apparently sees no hierar
chy and no chiefs at Cahokia.
8. Kehoe (1998) suggests thatCahokia was the capital of
a state, and she includes it along with Tiwanaku, Teotihuac?n,
Tikal, Rome, Versailles,
Itz? as examples of "awesomely
grand central
places, in-your-face centralized authority" (2002:266).
9.We might also see in this hesitancy a degree of ethno
traces of nineteenth-century
the lingering
Moundbuilder Myths that held thatNative Americans were
not capable of building mounds, much
less states of any kind
(Pauketat 2004, 2007).
10. Knight suggests thatMississippian
"esoteric knowl
edge and ritual manipulation" were passed down within clan
or lineage-based cults (1986:680);
similarly, Trocolli
(2002) suggests thatMississippian
leadership positions were
restricted to particular lineages. Among Siouan groups, ritual
knowledge was purchased and sold (e.g., see Hall 1997). This
transference ordinarily occurred within kin groups; for exam
ple, Bailey (1995) notes that therewere tribal priesthoods and
clan priesthoods among theOsage. Clan priesthoods initiated
new priests from within the clan, whereas "any man, regard
less of clan or moiety affiliation," could be invited for initia
tion into a tribal priesthood
1995:53). The very fact
... to record themost sacred and secret
religious knowledge"
Someone who had the right to teach such rituals
might "adopt" an initiate thathe deemed worthy, although his
actions were open to retribution from those who might dis
agree (e.g., see Hall 1997). Hall's discussion of adoption cer
emonies suggests that kin groups themselves were fluid
entities.We might conclude thatmotivated individuals might
find themeans
to acquire sacred knowledge if they did not
inherit the right to it. Kelly (2006) points out that ritual
knowledge among theOsage was shared; for example, differ
ent clans would
item. Kelly
contribute different parts of a single ritual
that production of ritual items at
was probably similar; for example, marine shell
beads appear to have been manufactured in stages atmultiple
locations, with different groups presumably undertaking the
different stages. Welch also writes of the Osage, "Because
most of the priesthoods were restricted to specific clans or
subclans and many of the ceremonies required participation
of all the priesthoods,
life of the community
by any single lineage or clan"
(2006:221). Thus, it seems reasonable to suggest that cere
monies and rituals at Cahokia were not restricted to a partic
the religious
not be dominated
ular kin group (cf. Kelly [1994], who posits the "retirement"
of lineages). The fact thatmany rituals were shared by differ
ent groups of Native Americans, albeit in varying forms, is
further evidence that ritual knowledge was not necessarily
restricted to particular kin groups.
in the collapse
(1980) does not seem to be anymore interested
of the theater state than he is interested in its
origins. However, he writes that the king ensured the pros
perity of his realm: "the productiveness of its land; the fertil
ity of its women; the health of its inhabitants; its freedom
from droughts, earthquakes, floods, weevils, or volcanic
eruption" (1980:129). Surely a king who was unable tomain
tain prosperity would potentially face an early curtain call.
There can be little doubt thatCahokia faced environmen
tal problems. For example, Ollendorf (1993) provides evi
dence of drought in theAmerican Bottom around A.D. 1200.
(1993) provide evidence that the flood
Lopinot and Woods
plain around Cahokia was ultimately deforested; this would
have resulted in erosion, as well as made obtaining wood for
construction and fuel difficult. Dalan et al. (2003) suggest
that alterations of the regional hydrology (through deforesta
tion, erosion, etc.) led to crop failures. Growing maize (which
is nitrogen depleting) without beans (which are nitrogen fix
ing) would have also resulted in declining yields; further
more, a diet dominated by maize without beans is deficient in
protein. The deer herd probably also declined due to the num
ber of hunters living in the American Bottom during the
period (e.g., see Holt 1996; Kelly 1997).
Although Pauketat argues that environmental problems
alone would have been insufficient to cause the collapse of
Cahokia, he does suggest that "a great earthquake centered in
New Madrid, Missouri,
of the sort that rocked the mid
continent in 1811-12" would have been an event "sufficient
to throw the legitimating ideology of the ruling elite . . . into
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Pauketat cites Woods
that evidence of slumping inMonks
cates that a significant earthquake hit Cahokia in the late thir
teenth century. At sites farther south, geologists
compiled overwhelming
earthquake or series of earthquakes comparable to those of
1811-1812 occurred in theNew Madrid zone atA.D. 1450 ?
150 (e.g., Tuttle et al. 2002). The earthquakes of 1811-1812
were powerful enough to reverse the course of theMississippi
River, sink some areas of land while raising others, and flat
ten forests (Penick 1981). Between flooding and earth move
ment, such violent events probably would have devastated
agricultural systems and especially following a
period of other environmental problems, would have been
dramatic enough to shake anyone's faith.
74, No. 2,2009]
Thus, Cahokia may have ended as well as started with a
Big Bang. Beyond Cahokia, I would point out that the area
affected by the 1811-1812 earthquakes is also consistent with
the Vacant
and Butler
(e.g., compare Cobb
1 with the map in Kerr 1981). Anyone who
denies that environmental change can stimulate cultural
change might note that some governments are taking action
now to mitigate possible impacts of global warming in the
future. Those who remain skeptical about the impact of the
environment on culture might wait and see what changes take
place in the future in those societies currently ignoring evi
dence of global warming.
Received November 1, 2006; Revised December
April 14, 2008; Accepted August 25, 2008.
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21, 2007,
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