The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Politics as usual in west-central Illinois? Warfare and violence during the Mississippian Period at Cahokia and beyond


1School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, 2Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice Studies, University of Southern Indiana, 3Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Prairie Research Institute

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 3 Add to calendar

This research explores how changes in warfare and violence in west-central Illinois were associated with changes in political centralization in the American Bottom (AB) and Central Illinois Valley (CIV) regions during the Mississippian Period (ca. AD 1050-1400). Frequencies and patterns of healed and lethal skeletal injuries from these regions and the Lower Illinois Valley (LIV) between them were examined. Mississippian political economy models emphasize the use of warfare and structural violence as elite strategies for consolidation of power and authority. It has been hypothesized that centralized elite power at Cahokia in the AB resulted in the suppression of warfare in the region; Pax Cahokiana. Our results indicate that political events at Cahokia and in the CIV differentially impacted each region and the LIV in between. During Cahokia’s demographic ascendency from AD 1050-1200, violent rituals were played out in mortuary monuments in the AB and CIV, but skeletal trauma from interpersonal violence was rare. Similarly at Schild in the LIV, the frequency of killings decreased after the adoption of a Mississippian lifeway, but more females and children were killed in comparison to males. After AD 1200, the cultural and demographic “decline” of Cahokia is reflected in dramatic increases in interpersonal violence within the CIV. However, evidence of violence at and around Cahokia is less clear. How levels of violence, the impact of disease, and adverse environmental changes affected regional mound centers is becoming illuminated as more sites are investigated.

This project was funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation (#8495) and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.