Through an interregional analysis of multiple archaeological patterns, this dissertation evaluates how and why the complex Mississippian (AD 1050–1350) polity of Cahokia extended its influence over the North American midcontinent, and the ways in which Woodland communities negotiated identities and made new traditions by participating in this process. Cahokia was the largest and most influential Pre-Columbian city north of Mexico, and its late 11th century coalescence in the American Bottom floodplain had lasting impacts on peoples throughout the Midwest and Midsouth. The expansion of Cahokia’s power and influence in the American Bottom is thought to be related to the production and exchange of certain craft items, resulting in the establishment of a complex network of settlements comprising Greater Cahokia.
In contrast, research on the spread of Cahokia’s influence to the northern hinterland regions documents the ways in which northern groups selectively adopted aspects of Mississippian lifeways while maintaining certain local traditions. Even as our knowledge and understanding of the Mississippian phenomenon continues to develop, these studies leave lingering questions about how and why the process of Mississippianization unfolded outside the American Bottom. The Lower Illinois River Valley (LIRV), a geographical zone separating the northern hinterland and Greater Cahokia, presents an opportunity to investigate these questions.
Excavations (and subsequent analysis) at the Audrey-North site (11GE20) in the 1980s and early 2000s revealed a substantial nucleated Mississippian settlement with a number of wall-trench buildings, a sweatlodge, Cahokia-style pottery, and Cahokian prestige items, challenging the notion of the LIRV as a frontier region with a minimal number of isolated Mississippian settlements. I hypothesize that the proximity of the LIRV to Cahokia may have enabled certain political, economic, and social interactions that were not possible with more distant groups. Furthermore, these interactions may have resulted in major organizational changes to daily life for the inhabitants of the Audrey site. I address these issues through an analysis of architecture and community organization, production and consumption of pottery, and lithic tool industries using data from the recent 2016 excavations at the site.
Comprehensive comparative analyses of similar patterns from Greater Cahokia, the Central Illinois River Valley (CIRV), and Apple River Valley (ARV) ultimately show that Audrey inhabitants did in fact practice lifeways more similar to those at Cahokia than have been observed in the northern hinterland. The variety of building sizes and types at Audrey, in addition to their production of exclusively Cahokia-style pottery and their use of Cahokia-style basalt celts, stands in contrast to the less-complex northern hinterland settlements whose inhabitants often produced hybrid pottery and were not engaged in Cahokian craft industries. I also found that, similar to northern hinterland Mississippians, Audrey inhabitants maintained certain Woodland-era conventions and hybridized others, generating new Mississippian traditions in the process. For example, the organization of Audrey’s economic activities (such as the local production of large Burlington chert bifaces) was less complex than those organized through Cahokia’s central political-administrative complex. A lack of ceramic servingwares suggests Audrey inhabitants and northern hinterland groups engaged in communally-oriented foodways in contrast to the ceremonialism of foodways at Cahokia. Additionally, one of the houses excavated at Audrey was a wall-trench structure with single-set posts, a Woodland/Mississippian hybrid form of architecture also observed in the uplands of the American Bottom. Finally, this broad interregional analysis assembles evidence that the diverse groups of people living in the Illinois and Upper Mississippi valleys during the 12th century were engaged in a network of interaction and exchange outside of Cahokia’s control. I suggest that these interactions may have fueled the signaling of Mississippian identities and the making of Mississippian traditions in the north.