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Judi Lynn

(160,969 posts)
Wed Jul 1, 2020, 06:35 AM Jul 2020

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia's Rise?

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

Today, much of the corn (Zea mays) grown in North America is used to produce corn ethanol – a blend that is added to fuels, primarily gasoline.

But approximately 1,000 years ago, in what is now southern Illinois, corn may have played a pivotal role in fueling the rise of a Native American metropolis. A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

“A social change was taking place at Cahokia and corn basically helped fuel it,” said Thomas Emerson, an emeritus professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois who led the study. The study findings were recently published in the journal American Antiquity.

Cahokia was the largest city in pre-Columbian North America. It was built by Native Americans known as the Mississippians, who were responsible for erecting some of the most impressive earthen mounds on the continent. At its height, the city boasted several large, flat-topped platform mounds – including the 30meter tall, four-terraced Monk’s Mound, which covered approximately 6 hectares at its base.

It was the city’s focal point and the largest earthen pyramid north of Mexico. Around A.D. 1050, Cahokia rose to dominate that region of the American Midwest where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers converge, a fertile floodplain known today as the “American Bottom.”


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Did Corn Fuel Cahokia's Rise? (Original Post) Judi Lynn Jul 2020 OP
Also cool! Alliepoo Jul 2020 #1
Cahokia is a cool place Sherman A1 Jul 2020 #2
How Did Cahokian Farmers Feed North America's Largest Indigenous City? Judi Lynn Jul 2020 #3
Before Cahokia was a large city, when it wnylib Jul 2020 #4


(2,249 posts)
1. Also cool!
Wed Jul 1, 2020, 06:45 AM
Jul 2020

Ya know-so much history that we were never taught in school. I’ve learned so much here at DU. Thanks for posting!

Sherman A1

(38,958 posts)
2. Cahokia is a cool place
Wed Jul 1, 2020, 06:54 AM
Jul 2020

Just across the river from me. I need to get back there after the pandemic ends.

Judi Lynn

(160,969 posts)
3. How Did Cahokian Farmers Feed North America's Largest Indigenous City?
Sat Jul 4, 2020, 08:07 PM
Jul 2020

Native American farming was more sophisticated than your history textbook told you.

MARCH 28, 2019

Monks Mound at Cahokia. ETHAJEK/PUBLIC DOMAIN

JUST OUTSIDE ST. LOUIS, VISITORS can witness the monumental earthen mounds that mark Cahokia, the largest indigenous city north of Mexico. There’s a persistent myth that the original inhabitants of what is now the United States were all hunter-gatherers living in small communities. Yet these mounds—likely used for ceremonial and housing purposes by people of the Mississippian Culture—reveal an often-neglected history: an organized, socially diverse, Pre-Columbian city.

Experts disagree about Cahokia’s exact population—and most other aspects of its society. Yet many archaeologists estimate that at its peak around the year 1100, Cahokia housed 10,000 to 20,000 people, with up to 50,000 inhabitants living in the surrounding area—a population size rivalling or surpassing concurrent European cities. Yet conventional theories of Native American agriculture, which is depicted as relatively non-productive and reliant on a classic trio of corn, squash, and beans, fail to account for a fundamental question: How did the Cahokians feed so many people?

Monks Mound at Cahokia. ETHAJEK/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Gayle Fritz has an answer. Archaeologists have long argued that Cahokians, like other indigenous North American cultures, relied heavily on corn. That’s true, says Fritz, a paleoethnobotanist and emeritus professor at Washington University in St. Louis. But in her new book, Feeding Cahokia, Fritz uses data from more recent seed flotation studies to argue that Cahokian crops were much more diverse than previously believed. This supports interpretations of Cahokia as a densely populated, prosperous city—and challenges older assumptions about the simplicity of Native American farming.

For hundreds of years, scholars argued that pre-Columbian North Americans did little to reshape the environment. In the past decades, however, more recent scholarship has argued that pre-Columbian American societies were not only equally or more sophisticated than those of the so-called Old World—but that indigenous people used large-scale agriculture to reshape the Americas into what Charles C. Mann, author of 1491, calls “the world’s largest garden.”

A 1887 illustration of Monks Mound. PUBLIC DOMAIN



(22,229 posts)
4. Before Cahokia was a large city, when it
Sun Jul 12, 2020, 08:46 PM
Jul 2020

was still a village of about 500 people, it relied on agriculture as well as hunting. So it was already predisposed to relying on cultivated plants before corn became a staple of their diet.

I recently read an atticle (sorry I don't recall the source) about Cahokian crops prior to (and layer concurrent with) corn. It suggested that the reason for the late arrival of corn to Cahokia was that corn needed time to adapt to more northern, cooler climates than its origins in the hotter, moister climate of southern Mexico.

The southwest of the current US had corn much earlier. I've often wondered where Cahokia first got corn from. Could have been from the southwest. But considering the temples and layout of Cahokia, it seems likely that Cahokia got its corn from traders farther south along the Mississippi. Aztecs had trading boats that followed the Gulf Coast. They would have traded with towns and villages at the mouth of the Mississippi, who in turn would be influenced by Aztec culture and pass aspects of it farther north themselves through trade, including items like corn seed.

Eventually, the whole area of the Mississippi Valley and the US southeast merged into the Mississippian Culture with religious and structural similarities to the civilizations of Mesoamerica, tweaked to local preferences.

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