Pilgrimage and the Construction of Cahokia: A View from the Emerald Site(2016)
This dissertation investigates the role of pilgrimage and pilgrimage centers in the development of the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia (A.D. 1050-1350) by examining archaeological data from the Emerald site, a large multi-mound center 24 km east of Cahokia. The goals of this project are to determine whether the Emerald site was a pilgrimage center coeval with Cahokia and, if so, how these journeys contributed to Cahokia's beginnings. Using mound construction data from four of Emerald's earthen mounds, data from magnetic surveys and targeted excavations on a pre-Columbian roadway called the Emerald Avenue linking Emerald to Cahokia, and analyses of features and artifacts excavated from the Emerald site by the Illinois State Archaeological Survey in 1998 and 2011, I argue that Cahokia's development hinged in part on pilgrimages to the Emerald site during lunar standstill events every 18.6 years. To determine whether Emerald was a pilgrimage center, I used ethnohistories, ethnographies, and contemporary accounts of Native American pilgrimage to construct material correlates of what we might expect to find archaeologically at a Native American pilgrimage center. These correlates include multiple short-term occupations, formal roads or paths converging there, evidence of non-local populations, few domestic structures, religious structures, plazas or open areas, evidence of feasting and other communal activities, and acts of remembrance. Overall, the archaeological data closely corresponds with these correlates. Ceramic and architectural data revealed that there were at least five distinct, short-term occupations at Emerald from about A.D. 1020 to 1200. Importantly, during one of these occupations, the Emerald site was completely reconstructed and enlarged in conjunction with Cahokia's A.D. 1050 founding. Investigations on the Emerald Avenue provide indirect evidence that there was indeed a processional avenue that linked Cahokia and Emerald. Ceramic data demonstrates that pilgrims traveled to Emerald primarily from Cahokia and the lower Illinois Valley and not local villages near the Emerald site. Short-term domiciles, special shrine structures, a large plaza, the continued enlargement and renewal of Emerald’s central earthen monument, and abundant feasting remains also point to Emerald's unique nature. Overall, this evidence shows that Emerald was a pilgrimage center temporally and spatially associated with Cahokia’s founding. Pilgrimages to the Emerald site were key to Cahokia's emergence. More specifically, the alignment of Emerald's natural landscape, mounds, and features to the lunar standstill event, the presence of a spring adjacent to the site, the continued renewal of the primary mound, large-scale feasts, and the special structures at the site show that these journeys linked pilgrims to the moon, Earth Mother deity, Under World, mythical narratives, and notions of renewal, abundance, and fertility. The relationships that were forged during these pilgrimages ensured world renewal, sufficient rainfall, and successful harvests; they also instigated important social and political alliances and a collective identity. In sum, pilgrimages to Emerald assured the overall wellbeing and prosperity of the Cahokian world. It is likely that without these journeys, the city of Cahokia and its impact on the rest of pre-Columbian North America, would have been profoundly different.
Publication DateAugust, 2016
Field of studyAnthropology
AdvisorsPauketat, Timothy R.
Citation InformationB. Jacob Skousen. "Pilgrimage and the Construction of Cahokia: A View from the Emerald Site" (2016)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jacob-skousen/2/