The Indigenous city of Cahokia, located in the American Bottom region of western Illinois, provides a unique context to investigate the processes of city formation and dissolution through examining people’s investment in place and place-making. Cahokia was a cultural and political zenith in the region between A.D. 1050-1350, characterized by three connected boroughs (St. Louis, East St. Louis, and Cahokia) and a series of outlying sites consisting of immigrants and local Terminal Late Woodland populations. This summer’s work is one part of a larger NSF-funded project examining how peripheral communities contributed to the construction, maintenance, and future dissolution of this medieval city.
This project developed from questions raised during IFR Field Schools in 2016 and 2017 in which we explored the ways in which landscape shaped the settlement history of one neighborhood in Downtown Cahokia. Here we expand this question to consider how engaged people living in neighborhoods on the physical periphery of the city were. Beginning with excavations at one such peripheral neighborhood to the west of Downtown Cahokia, we will consider how and by what means people actively chose to participate in the creation of this urban landscape. We will examine structural and artifactual evidence of people’s investment in the built environment (mounds, borrows, causeways, public buildings in or adjacent to the neighborhood), access to raw materials and completed objects, and participation in city-wide events that structured their daily activities, temporalities, and identities. We will consider size, shape, density, and orientation of structures to identify when this neighborhood was occupied and for how long. This evidence will be compared to what we know about neighborhoods already excavated in the core of two major precincts: East St. Louis and Downtown Cahokia, to evaluate whether peripheral neighborhood occupants are engaging with Cahokian practices and ideologies at the same or similar levels as people in the core civic-ceremonial areas of the city. In the bigger picture, we will consider whether level of investment coincides with longevity of peripheral neighborhoods (and thus their contribution to the rise and decline of the city).