Cahokia: The Rise and Fall of an Indigenous Empire

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A painting of Cahokia Mounds State Historic site by William R. Iseminger. Source: William R. Iseminger

Cahokia: The Rise and Fall of an Indigenous Empire

Cahokia City Center, Spring of 1054

A young Indigenous man, a Pilgrim, has been walking all day carrying a large bundle basket on his back. His long black hair is tied up in a bun at the back of his head, and he has new, round, purplish, flint clay spools in his ears. The young man’s body is taught, lean, and muscular, and a simple red loincloth is draped around his waist and through his legs, with the tail of the cloth flowing behind him.

This Pilgrim is journeying into the ceremonial city center of Cahokia from his new farming home community a couple of days walking distance away. The Pilgrim’s whole family, clan, and tribe had heard the great stories of the Cahokian Empire and had left their former homelands, much farther away, to see if the stories about Cahokia were indeed true. They had found a place in one of the suburban farming collectives that paid tribute crops to Cahokia.

A diorama showing a Mississippian culture elite personage from the Cahokia site in Collinsville, Illinois. The figure wears a cloth skirt and sash, an engraved shell gorget, ear spools, and a falcon eye design painted on his face. (Herb Roe / CC BY-SA 3.0)

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