We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


A World Renewal Cult Heterarchy

A. Martin Byers

Publication Year: 2006

Cahokia is located in the northern expanse of American Bottom, the largest of the Mississippian flood plains, and opposite St. Louis, Missouri. Byers overturns the current political characterization of this largest known North American prehistoric site north of Mexico. Rather than treating Cahokia as the seat of a dominant Native American polity, a "paramount chiefdom," Byers argues that it must be given a religious characterization as a world renewal cult center. Furthermore, the social and economic powers that it manifests must not be seen to reside in Cahokia itself but in multiple world renewal cults distributed across the American Bottom and in the nearby upland regions.

Byers argues that Cahokia can be thought of as an affiliation of mutually autonomous cults that pooled their labor and other resources and established their collective mission as the performance of world renewal rituals by which to maintain and enhance the sacred powers of the cosmos. The cults, he argues, adopted two forms of sacrifice: one was the incrementally staged manipulation of the deceased (burial, disinterment, bone cleaning, and reburial), with each unfolding step constituting a mortuary act having different and greater world renewal sacrificial force. The other was lethal human sacrifice--probably correlated with long distance warfare by which to procure victims.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (59.5 KB)

List of Figures

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.6 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.8 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (78.7 KB)
pp. xi-xiv

The most expansive floodplain of the Mississippi River, located in Illinois and termed the American Bottom, is home to the largest aggregation of monumental earthwork mounds in North America. The largest concentration of this aggregation of mounds is referred to as Cahokia, which is located several kilometers...

read more

1. Introduction

pdf iconDownload PDF (409.3 KB)
pp. 1-30

Cahokia is a major archaeological site of the prehistoric Mississippian period in the American Bottom region of the central Mississippi Valley (Figure 1.1). It has an estimated (and to some degree, conventionally recognized) areal magnitude of about fifteen square kilometers. Built and occupied between circa...

read more

2. The Deontic Ecological Perspective

pdf iconDownload PDF (290.4 KB)
pp. 31-59

As I observe in chapter 1, the deontic sphere of a social system is constituted of the moral, ethical, and legal principles and the complex set of rules and protocols that are basic to the social structure of a community. What is rarely noted in most ecological studies, however, is that deontics are also basic to the subsistence...

read more

3. Cultural Traditions and Prehistoric Archaeology

pdf iconDownload PDF (255.4 KB)
pp. 60-84

When prehistoric archaeology moves away from the behavioral moment or aspect of culture and toward the cognitive-normative aspect, culture is usually spoken of as the set of beliefs, values, and attitudes shared by a people and constituting their cultural traditions. When archaeologists give a collective, particularly...

read more

4. Deontic Ecology, Cultural Traditions, and Social Systems

pdf iconDownload PDF (224.1 KB)
pp. 85-104

I can now elucidate theoretically the type of social system articulation that would be consistent with my outline of deontic ecology and the integrated notion of cultural traditions. This synthesis is of central importance because it forms the foundation of the critical assessment of the hierarchical monistic modular...

read more

5. Mortuary Practices, Cults, and Social Systems

pdf iconDownload PDF (305.4 KB)
pp. 105-136

In my elucidation of deontic ecology, I point out that Douglas Charles and Jane Buikstra (1983, 120–21) have highlighted the important relation between territorialism, ecological practices, and mortuary practices and that, in parallel with James Brown’s view of the evolution of Archaic period settlement practices, their...

read more

6. The Sacred Maize Model and the Sponemann Site

pdf iconDownload PDF (342.5 KB)
pp. 137-162

The Sacred Maize model as applied to the American Bottom postulates that a series of related ideological innovations—essentially midwifery rituals—was successfully implemented and marked the Terminal Late Woodland period and that, largely unwittingly, this implementation instigated a population expansion...

read more

7. The Early Terminal Late Woodland Period Sponemann Community Development

pdf iconDownload PDF (195.4 KB)
pp. 163-177

Andrew Fortier and his colleagues (1991, 57) note that the Sponemann phase occupation of this site was made up of thirty-one rectangular single-post structures, six single-post features commonly referred to in the literature as keyhole structures, and associated pits and related features (plus one small circular single- post...

read more

8. The Development of Terminal Late Woodland Period American Bottom Settlement: The Range Site

pdf iconDownload PDF (522.6 KB)
pp. 178-222

Most proponents of the hierarchical monistic modular polity view accept that the postulated Mississippian period dominance-based hierarchical social system of complex chiefdoms emerged rather suddenly from a system of simple chiefdoms that developed during the Terminal Late Woodland period...

read more

9. Cahokia as a World Renewal Cult Heterarchy

pdf iconDownload PDF (204.7 KB)
pp. 223-239

As I discuss in detail in chapter 1 and subsequent chapters, the prevailing archaeological characterization of the American Bottom social system during the Mississippian period treats Cahokia as the political seat of a dominance-based hierarchical monistic modular polity. This polity has been construed in a broad...

read more

10. Cahokia as a Hierarchical Monistic Modular Polity: A Critical View

pdf iconDownload PDF (245.7 KB)
pp. 240-260

The term downtown is used by most American Bottom archaeologists to refer to the “core” of Cahokia, which consists of both the central precinct of Cahokia and the set of mound-plaza complexes that immediately frame it on the north, east, and west sides (Pauketat 1998, 1). The central precinct, as such, consists of...

read more

11. The “Rural” Settlement Pattern

pdf iconDownload PDF (425.3 KB)
pp. 261-295

The countryside settlement pattern of the American Bottom Mississippian period, this being the settlement component separate from the multiple-mound sites themselves, has been thoroughly analyzed and interpreted by Thomas Emerson (1992, 202–6; 1997a, 221–27; 1997b, 174–84; 1997c, 38–41, 62, 148). He refers to...

read more

12. Cahokian Mortuary Practices: The Media of World Renewal Ritual

pdf iconDownload PDF (404.1 KB)
pp. 296-324

The mortuary data of the Mississippian period of the American Bottom have been used by almost all the proponents of the hierarchical monistic modular polity account as primary evidence for validating the central notions of rank and dominance as characterizing the Middle Mississippian social system. Here I want to...

read more

13. Mound 72: Funerary Monument or World Renewal Icon?

pdf iconDownload PDF (508.0 KB)
pp. 325-372

Mound 72 takes us back to the Lohmann phase (or earlier), which has been deemed the opening scene of the Mississippian period in the American Bottom. As I note in an earlier chapter, many proponents of the hierarchical monistic modular polity account point or allude to Mound 72 as being among the strongest supporting...

read more

14. Integrating the Floodplain and Upland Mortuary Records

pdf iconDownload PDF (318.2 KB)
pp. 373-402

Recently, several reports and analyses have been published that summarize and interpret new mortuary data found in upland sites representing, possibly, the later Terminal Late Woodland period and most of the Mississippian period. For example, Donald Booth has reported on and interpreted the Center Grove site, which he characterizes...

read more

15. The Terminal Late Woodland–Mississippian Transition: Alternative Accounts

pdf iconDownload PDF (399.2 KB)
pp. 403-448

Using the theoretical framework and its empirical grounding that I have developed to this point, I can now complete what I initially outlined at the end of chapter 8, namely, the heterarchical polyistic locale-centric account of the Terminal Late Woodland–Mississippian transition. I present this as an alternative to the different...

read more

16. The Organizational Principles of Multiple-Mound Locales

pdf iconDownload PDF (233.8 KB)
pp. 449-472

George Milner (1998, 167–70) has applied an objective-materialist approach to account for the siting of mound locales, effectively arguing that while the setting of the mound locale may have been chosen by its occupants (in particular, the ranking “chiefly lineage”), the chiefdom “town-and-mound center” (Milner 1990, 18) was selected...

read more

17. The Layout of Cahokia: The Material Media and Outcome of Factionalism

pdf iconDownload PDF (315.6 KB)
pp. 473-504

In the analysis of Mound 72 and its role in Woodhenge 72 (chapter 13), I point out that a line joining the large post pit under the southeastern end of the mound (PP1) and a large post pit found on the southwest corner of the first terrace of Monks Mound constituted the north-south axis of Cahokia. Clay Sherrod and Martha...

read more

18. The History and Outcome of Factional Competition in Cahokia

pdf iconDownload PDF (263.1 KB)
pp. 505-528

As discussed in the previous chapter, while the abandoning of Woodhenge 72 by means of constructing Mound 72, razing the Tract 15A structures built around the Lohmann phase plaza, and building a new woodhenge in this place constitutes clear evidence of the continuing importance of the Woodhenge cult, I suggest that...

Appendix A. Sponemann Site, Sponemann Phase, Sitewide Ubiquity, and Exclusivity Indices

pdf iconDownload PDF (102.9 KB)
pp. 529-537

Appendix B. Sponemann Site, Sponemann Phase, Community 3 Ubiquity, and Exclusivity Indices

pdf iconDownload PDF (86.1 KB)
pp. 539-546


pdf iconDownload PDF (277.3 KB)
pp. 547-572


pdf iconDownload PDF (151.6 KB)
pp. 573-586


pdf iconDownload PDF (164.9 KB)
pp. 587-599

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045269
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813029580
Print-ISBN-10: 0813029589

Page Count: 616
Illustrations: 53 b&w illustrations, 29 tables
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park (Ill.).
  • Mississippian culture -- Illinois -- Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park.
  • Cults -- Illinois -- Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park.
  • Indians of North America -- Illinois -- Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park (Ill.) -- Antiquities.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access