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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi
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Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  358 ratings  ·  62 reviews
The fascinating story of a lost city and an unprecedented American civilization

While Mayan and Aztec civilizations are widely known and documented, relatively few people are familiar with the largest prehistoric Native American city north of Mexico-a site that expert Timothy Pauketat brings vividly to life in this groundbreaking book. Almost a thousand years ago, a city...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 27th 2010 by Penguin Books (first published 2009)
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I was hoping to read more about Cahokia itself as it was, but it felt like more than half of the book was actually dedicated to the story of the archaeologists who uncovered various parts of it. It's nice to know about, I guess, but as a non-archaeologist I had a hard time visualizing the descriptions of the digs.

The remainder, the interesting tidbits, were (fittingly, I guess) buried between long stretches of the archaeologist narrative. The reader can catch glimpses of Cahokian ritual, myth,...more
Barnaby Thieme
This book tells the wrong story, devoting most of its short length to the excavation of Cahokia by generations of researchers, and offering the reader little information about the site itself.

It's a very odd decision. I don't know if Pauketat, himself an academic and excavator, believed that these details are more interesting than they actually are, or if he was searching for a way to "tell a story" with it, to make it more appealing for a general audience.

There are many cases in which excavat...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
The Book Report: Where today sits St. Louis, Missouri, there once sat a huge Native American city we call Cahokia, absent any other name for it, relating it to a creek that flows through the five-square-mile extent of the known city and suburbs. There are Indian mounds galore here, and there even is a state park over on the Illinois side of the river. Serious archaeology has been done mostly in front of the bulldozers and the plows of farmers, developers, and the highway builders. Pauketat is on...more
A great city, huge temples, a large central playing field, planned communities built on the rubble of previous towns, outlying communities where immigrant labor, poorly fed, work fields of corn to feed the urbanites: urbanization, urban renewal, immigrant labor - it's all here, starting perhaps with the observation of a supernova in 1054...and has been gone since the inhabitants disappeared in the 1300-1400's. A testament to the lack of historical credibility of the savage-in-the-woods slander t...more
Elizabeth K.
May 07, 2011 Elizabeth K. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Armchair archaeologists, and people who read Time-Life books when they were kids.
Shelves: 2011-new-reads
I will always remember my Time-Life Mysteries of the Ancient World book, which featured a misty picture of the Cahokia mounds and informed us that no one knows who built these mysterious mounds, or why, (oooOOOoooOOOOooo) before moving on to Easter Island. Either the Time-Life people were slacking off, or more discoveries have been made, because there's enough interesting information about the Cahokians to fill a (small) book.

There's still a lot of "maybe ... or then again, maybe not" going on,...more
So, right, a book about Native American History in the US. I'm somewhat better on pre-Columbian Latin American history, but after reading this I have determined it's possible that I don't know anything because no one knows that much, not just because I'm an ignoramus.

Anyway, this is not quite as engrossing as some science-for-the-masses books, probably due to the paucity of source material. The author is careful to footnote things and admit what is unknown, so it's interesting and educational, b...more
Jim Gallen
“Cahokia” is an in-depth recitation of what archeologists have learned about the ancient mounded city known as Cahokia. For unknown reasons Cahokia arose around 1050 becoming, with 20,000 inhabitants, a metropolis rivaling London during its day. With its satellite communities in current East St. Louis and St. Louis it was the most influential community north of Mexico for about two centuries. After that it blew away as mysteriously as it had risen, leaving only its many mounds and buried artifac...more
Timothy Corrigan
The hell if I knew that the ruins of an eleventh-century metropolis sits across the river from St. Louis. Unfortunately, what remains was built with earth, and the convening years have not been kind (though the lumpen, eroded sadness which is the central pyramid mound can still boast being the fourth largest pyramid in the Americas).

Great if you've ever wondered what the social and political landscape of North America looked like prior to the European invasion.
Keith Akers
Writing style isn't like the DaVinci Code, but maybe that's a good thing. It does a good, clear job of explaining the whole history of Cahokia that we know of, cutting back and forth from the present to the past. The history of the archeological excavations, with some sites lost to "progress" but the key site (apparently) preserved, is itself fairly dramatic.
I was hoping for solid info. about Hopewell mounds, artifacts, and culture and was disappointed with the scant info. about ancient America. It had a few morsels but was lacking.
Fascinating book about the discovery and archeology of the Cahokia sites. I didn't know much about this preColumbian site and found it quite interesting.
Kathy  Petersen
Cahokia Mounds Historic Site is just across the river from my city of St. Louis. I have several times visited the site, most recently last week. Pauketat's Cahokia sweeps the reader not only through the intriguing mounds of southern Illinois but also through much of the history that preceded the EuroAmerican invasion of the continent. Much is speculation, but well-reasoned and evidence-based. The past is very much beyond us, but we do find blurry windows like this that continue to enchant us and...more
Sandy D.
This is a very well-written book - which frankly surprised me, because it's a book by an archaeologist. In my experience, academic archaeologists are not very good at writing for people who haven't had at least a few years of grad school.

Anyway, this is *much* more accessible to the general reader than Pauketat's previous book (Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians). And this is a very good thing, because there really aren't many books explaining modern archaeology to an interested public.

Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch

Curious that a settlement widely asserted (an assertion repeated in this volume) to have been the size of a contemporary London at its height (1000 - 1200 CE) is essentially a ghost ship of history. Merely a lesson in the particular narrative value of enduring metals, stone and the recorded word?

An odd book by an expert in the field. As an expert in the field, I am willing to presume Professor Pauketat was approached by the editors of the series (The Penguin Library of American Indian History)...more
For someone who loves archaeology and books as much as I do, I am universally bored by books about archaeology. I wish this wasn't true. Believe it or not, I sort of prefer straight-up site reports (long, dull, technical) because they include plans of the site and pictures of the artifacts. The way I most like to learn about archaeology is to go to the place where it happened, but there must be a successful way to do this book thing, too. Surely it would require lots and lots of pictures, of whi...more
Alex Telander
Journey back to the eleventh century when North America was a wide open continent teaming with wildlife and nature, where the native peoples were in the minority, where natural resources were in abundance, and where life was different. Travel up the Mississippi and when you get to a place near to what would one day be the city of St. Louis, you will find great flat-top pyramids reaching into the sky, and a place teaming with activity and people. You have reached the ancient and once great city o...more
Charles Lindsey
A taut little documentary about a mystery. I can't be alone among the millions of well-informed contemporary Americans who never knew about this sprawling, rich, strange city that flourished in mid-continent around the 10th century. Pauketat tells the reader what's known about Cahokia, what's unknown, and what probably never will be known. He assembles clues: bones, petroglyphs, geography. He lays them out without sentiment (and pointing out, at times, that lack of sentiment, particularly as it...more
Carol Storm
What I wanted was more than just a bunch of boring stories about excavations at the Cahokia mounds near St. Louis. I wanted something like a vivid recreation of the long-forgotten past. Thousands of warriors dancing in colorful costumes up and down the pyramid stairs! Beautiful maidens being sacrificed to frowning stone gods! Decadent chieftains feasting out of human skulls!

Instead the whole book was like, "the presence of a chunkey stick within the burial cavern of Mound 138 suggests very stron...more
This is a fascinating exploration of the archaeology and history of what was once the largest city in North America - larger, in fact, than London in the same period. While the evidence is still not conclusive, Pauketat thoroughly describes what we can know about the influence of Cahokia, and the potential impact the collapse of the city had on the inland American Indian cultures that Europeans first encountered. Cahokia is now on my must-see list!
The topic was very interesting and, ultimately, i liked this a lot. But I had two problems with it: 1) The writing was, at times, pretty uneven. Needlessly wordy and/or circumspect and/or repetitive. Also, at times strangely vague about details. 2) Which was the second major problem. At times he would clearly explicate the basis for some theory/interpretation and at other times, he would just throw (often counterintuitive or contrarian) ideas out there without any explanation. It was hard to mak...more
I never cease to be amazed at us modern day humans who think we are so superior to civilizations that existed years, perhaps even thousands of year, earlier. This is an EZ to read book about the Mississippi civilizations that were dominant in North America over 1000 years ago. Mr. Pauketat does a good job of presenting theories about their lives as just that - some of them pretty far fetched. We are left to reach our own conclusions. I tend to be non-judgmental, wondering what future civilizatio...more
Matthew Griffiths
Having not read anything on Cahokia before and having never read a history book based purely on archaeological work I decided to give this book a read and it made for a rather pleasant surprise. The book used the evidence from various digs to hypothesise about Cahokia's role in creating to some extent the mississippian society. The revelations from some of the digs certainly challenged some of my previous assumptions about Native American society and will undoubtedly do so for other readers too....more
Rena Jane
This exploration and analysis of the Mound Builders of the early Mississipian culture was an interesting read, and confirmed theories and ideas I've had about pre-Columbian Native culture. The correlation with Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations makes sense.

My mother helped clean, sort and restore artifacts from the Spiro Mound for the University of Oklahoma in Norman during the Depression. Her discussions and pictures of some of the artifacts she worked on resonated with Pauketat's informatio...more
Not impressed. An interesting story told poorly, I suppose. Maybe it has to do with the lack of remains and ruins but so much of the book seemed speculative. There appears to be a lot of guess work that goes into describing the activities of the Cahokians, where they came from, what became of them, and cultural traits that do not remain behind as fossils very easily. Sure there are assumptions that can be made when looking at bones, homes, and evolution of language but... again, there is so much...more
Karen Cox
This is an excellent discussion of the most important pre-Columbian site north of the Rio Grande. The writer describes the process of digging the site and explains how the dig results show what life was like when the city flourished. I particularly like the fact that he's not inclined to the "noble savage" school of thought and fairly describes the Cahokians as, to the best he can, as they really were, subject to the same flaws as the rest of us. Not worse, not better, just accurate. An appropri...more
Cahokia is a thorough and well-written book describing the history of the excavations and archaeological analyses of the Cahokia people and other mound-builder societies. Personalities involved are as interesting as their subject. I was saddened to learn that the people who created such elegant earth sculptures and planned communities also practiced human sacrifice on a large scale. That's my 21st century female attitude showing. More illustrations would have made it easier for me to envision bu...more
A decent read, well written. I enjoyed it for its description of a surprising period in pre-Columbian Native American life when a city-state suddenly formed, and which lasted for about 150 years, beginning about 1150. Disappointing--tho not at all the author's fault--is how conjectural (repeated phrases: it may be, it could have been, several possibilities, etc.) our knowledge and understanding of that period is. The vast majority of the source of our knowledge is archaeological, with a few bits...more
Excellent discussion of this ancient city on the Mississippi, site of the largest earthenworks in the world until the Hoover Dam was built. It is necessarily scholarly, but still absorbing. The author, an anthropology professor at U of Illinois, is particularly objective, therefore calling into question some theories that have long been promoted by other scientists intellectually hampered by their prejudices about Indian peoples. Even if you think you know about Cahokia, you will learn a lot fro...more
Phil Ford
While a small book, about 150 pages, it is packed with information! A great introduction to this historic phenomenon that may even be little known or enigmatic to people. The information is well researched and the speculation is great. A good recommended read for those who like Charles Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. An important piece of the puzzle to Native American history. My only complaint is there are NO photographs to accompany the book!
Caveat: the book is not for everyone. Cahokia is an ancient city that reached its peak about 1050 A.D. and was located near what became St. Louis--who knew? Apparently the people in St. Louis knew. Anyway, this book is very dry, but is just the kind of history I find fascinating. There is much conjecture about the meaning of the mounds (and the third largest pyramid in the western hemisphere) that I'm not necessarily buying. But who made me an archaeologist?
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