Cahokia-Moundville-Etowah Artifacts Unearthed at Mayan site in Mexico

Over the past year there has been much debate about the possible presence of Maya in America, specifically in Georgia. Certain academics were quite vocal in their opposition to this idea stating emphatically that there was “no evidence” of a Maya presence in Georgia. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this article from the magazine Archaeology dated to 2010. It clearly states that pottery from the Etowah site in Georgia had been found at the Mayan site of Tamtoc in Mexico. So why all the denials by academics over the past year that there is “no evidence” of a Mayan presence in Georgia? Were they unaware of this major research article in Archaeology magazine? Unlikely.

Furthermore, are we to believe that the inhabitants of Etowah went south but no Maya came north? The article below suggests just this sort of sillyness. The mental gymnastics academics will go through to avoid having the Maya in America is astounding as if there was some type of force field on the Rio Grande River that prevented people a thousand years ago from crossing it. But if this was a trade relationship then the influence likely went back and forth not just in one direction. Read an excerpt below from the Archaeology article to learn about the evidence of artifacts from Etowah (as well as Cahokia and Moundville) at the Mayan site of Tamtoc in northeastern Mexico:

This view looks eastward from the top of one of the long mounds above Tamtoc’s ceremonial plaza. The large ritual mound Cerro del Cubilete is on the left. (Courtesy Tom Gidwitz)


by Tom Gidwitz

These projectile points, unearthed at Tamtoc, share a style common to points from the Mississippian culture that was prominent in what is now the Southeastern, Eastern and Midwest United States. (Courtesy Patricio Davila and Diana Zaragoza)

For decades, archaeologists have theorized that North America’s Late Woodland and Mississippian cultures drew inspiration from the Huasteca, but Davila and Zaragoza’s excavations at Tamtoc in the 1990s convinced them that cultural influence, and perhaps actual migration, spread from north to south. They unearthed objects that seemed to come from the American Southeast in about A.D. 900—a fragment of a sheet of hammered copper, a pointed metal hand tool, a piece of engraved shell, a cache of a dozen whole and twenty fragmented Cahokia projectile points, and pottery that could have come from sites to the north such as Etowah, and Moundville. When they dug into a terrace beside the site’s western mound, they found that, like the mounds at Cahokia, it had been piled up layer-by-layer in basket-sized loads, with dirt from pits that became the lagoons around the site.

“We dug and dug and dug,” says Davila, “but I understood nothing.” Then he read Garcilaso de la Vega’s La Florida del Inca, an account of the 1539 Hernando de Soto expedition to the Southeast. It describes huge Indian trade and war canoes that plied the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the rivers of the Southeast. “We think there was a migration by sea,” says Davila.

Scholars have long recognized that both the Southeast and Huasteca had towns with artificial lagoons and platform mounds with thatched structures on top, engraved shell jewelry, imagery of feathered dancers, stone pipes, and ghostly pots that represent the dead with closed eyes, open mouths, and filed teeth. They have theorized that the cultural influence flowed from Mesoamerica northward, but the Tamtoc artifacts, other mounds in the Huasteca, and the region’s incised shell gorgets, post-date their earliest North American counterparts.

University of South Florida archaeologist Nancy White says that major cultural influences, as well as people, may well have traveled north to south. “We know other things may have moved from North to South America, things that may be considered less important or equally important, like tobacco.” The Mississippian motifs of the Late Prehistoric period that appear in the Huasteca do indicate that “at this late time people were probably moving around and sharing these ideas, but just a few things.” In the field, Martínez and Córdova want to see for themselves.

Read the full article here:

Native American Tea Cups Unearthed at Cahokia

Archaeologists have unearthed unique drinking vessels in the ancient Native American metropolis of Cahokia that are proven to have once been used as drinking vessels for the Black Drink. The Black Drink was a highly-caffeinated Native American tea made from the leaves of the Yaupon holly plant that grows in coastal regions of the Southeast. The scientists were able to test residue remaining in the cups and determined their use. The researchers then jump to the amazing conclusion that this was the earliest known use of Black Drink in America. This simply isn’t true. The earliest use of the Black Drink is documented in the Southeast during the Woodland Period and it spread into the Midwest during the Hopewell Period. Some archaeologists even think they have evidence for its use as far back as the Archaic Period. (See the Wikipedia article: “Black Drink” for a good overview.) In fact, the Ocmulgee Mounds site in Georgia predates the Cahokia site by at least 100 years and is known to have consumed this tea and likely controlled the trade of Yaupon holly leaves with its strategic location in Central Georgia.

Another interesting tidbit from the article is the fact that these drinking cups date from 1050-1250 AD. Over and over again I’ve seen this pattern of settlements in America lasting for exactly 250 years. Yes, the article states the site lasted until 1350 but the last hundred years were likely just hangers-on. The Black Drink cups reveal the true length of time the site was at its height. Once again we see a 250-year cycle related to the rise and fall of a powerful Native American civilization. Interestingly, scientists know of a 250-year solar cycle that influences rainfall patterns. Research has shown that Iron Age settlements in Europe lasted 250 years as a result of this rain/drought cycle. It is likely one of the reasons for the decline of Cahokia as well. Other scientists have noted a 250-year seismic cycle. Since Cahokia sits right in the middle of the New Madrid fault zone earthquake activity could also have contributed to its decline. (Curiously, the Maya believed in a 256-year cycle that governed the rise and fall of civilizations. I researched this topic and published my results in the book Mayan Calendar Prophecies| Part 1: Predictions for 2012 and Beyond.)

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Archaeologist Patricia Crown at the University of New Mexico and chemist Jeffrey Hurst at the Hershey Technical Center in Pennsylvania analyzed plant residues in eight mug-shaped pottery beakers from Greater Cahokia and its surroundings. They found signs they once held “black drink,” a caffeinated brew made from the toasted leaves of the Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) that grew more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the south.

“We’re not sure when Native Americans stopped using black drink,” Emerson said. “I think its use went more into the closet, due to pressure from Europeans to drop pagan practices.”

For many tribes of Native Americans, the black drink was a key component of purification rituals before war parties, religious ceremonies, important political councils or other important events. Rapid consumption of large quantities of the hot drink preceded ritual vomiting as part of the purification rituals. People in South America continue to make drinks from varieties of holly, such as yerba maté and té o’ maté, albeit in more relaxed contexts. [Top 10 Extreme Religious Sects]

“It’s always described by Europeans and people who have consumed it as something tasting like tea,” Emerson said.

You can read the full article here:

Researchers reveal how prehistoric Native Americans of Cahokia made copper artifacts

Etowah Mounds Bird Man copper plateEVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern University researchers ditched many of their high-tech tools and turned to large stones, fire and some old-fashioned elbow grease to recreate techniques used by Native American coppersmiths who lived more than 600 years ago.

This prehistoric approach to metalworking was part of a metallurgical analysis of copper artifacts left behind by the Mississippians of the Cahokia Mounds, who lived in southwestern Illinois from 700 until 1400 A.D. The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science in May.

The researchers were able to identify how the coppersmiths of Cahokia likely set up their workshop and the methods and tools used to work copper nuggets into sacred jewelry, headdresses, breastplates and other regalia.

The researchers were able to identify how the coppersmiths of Cahokia likely set up their workshop and the methods and tools used to work copper nuggets into sacred jewelry, headdresses, breastplates and other regalia.

“Metals store clues within their structure that can help explain how they were processed,” said David Dunand, the James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-author of the paper. “We were lucky enough to analyze small, discarded pieces of copper found on the ground of the excavated ‘copper workshop house’ in Cahokia and determine how the metal was worked by the Cahokians.”

Two materials science and engineering students conducted much of the research. Matt Chastain, a Northwestern undergraduate at the time of the study, worked alongside Alix Deymier-Black, a graduate student in the materials science and engineering department. Chastain, first author of the paper, undertook the metallurgical analysis of the samples, supplied from ongoing excavations at Mound 34 in Cahokia. Chastain followed up his analysis by volunteering at the excavation site.

“We cut through some samples of the copper pieces and polished them to look at the grain structures of the copper with a microscope,” said Deymier-Black, second author of the paper. “From the size, shape and features of the grains inside the copper, we determined that the coppersmiths were likely hammering the copper, probably with a heavy rock, then putting the copper in the hot coals of a wood fire for five to 10 minutes to soften it and repeating the cycle until they had created a thin sheet of copper. ”

After using basic metallurgical science to better understand the methods the Cahokians used to create copper sheets, Deymier-Black and Chastain recreated the metalworking process in the lab with natural copper nuggets, fire and a heavy stone —pounding and heating the copper into thin sheets.

The researchers also tested theories that some archeologists had made about the coppersmiths’ techniques. One idea was that they made large copper pieces, like ceremonial breastplates, by “laminating” sheets of copper together through a hammering technique. Deymier-Black said that the lamination could not be reproduced, even with much greater weights achievable with a modern press. The other hypothesis, that the Cahokians used copper knobs or copper rivets and other mechanical devices to secure sheets of copper together, seems more likely.

Another puzzle was how the Cahokians cut the hammered sheets of copper into regular shapes. The researchers cut replicated hammered sheets by four different methods: grinding an embossed ridge, shearing with scissors, hammering against a sharp corner, and bending the sheet back and forth. Only the bent edge looked similar to the edge of the historical artifacts, indicating that the Cahokians most likely used that method to cut copper.

Scientific insight into the process used to create the sacred copper artifacts of Cahokian people is helpful to James Brown, professor of anthropology at Northwestern Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and John E. Kelly, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. The two researchers, co-authors on the study, are credited with pinpointing the location of the copper workshop at Cahokia.

“I’m delighted that through the scientific process we were able to confirm some of the techniques and end some disputes about how the copper artifacts were made,” said Brown, also an international expert on Native American archaeology. “This study gives some of the real details, so that an observer can imagine how it was done and could possibly hook onto other kinds of observations about the people of Cahokia.”

Provided by Northwestern University

Cahokia mounds reveal a vast copper workshop

Junior Sarah Luongo and Steven Broderick, Class of 2009, work on excavations overlying a copper workshop found in Cahokia Mounds. A team of researchers led by John Kelly, Washington University archaeology professor, and James Brown from Northwestern University discovered a copper workshop that will provide insight into the lives of the Cahokians who leaved near the mounds more than 1,000 years ago. (Courtesy of John Kelly)

Nearly 1,000 years ago, the ancient city of Cahokia flourished only 20 minutes away from modern St. Louis in the floodplains of the Mississippi River. Today, the discovery of a copper workshop by a team of researchers led by John Kelly, Washington University archeology professor, and James Brown of Northwestern University will provide insight into the lives of the mysterious Cahokians.

Native Americans began to settle the area around East St. Louis in 1000 A.D., and the city had a population boom 50 years later. More than 20,000 people lived in the city during Cahokia’s Golden Age.

Four plazas were built around Monk’s Mound, believed to be the largest mound of Cahokia. The mound is approximately as large as the Danforth Campus.

Today, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site still has 80 mounds of various sizes out of the more than 100 mounds built. These were created when Cahokians dismantled constructed buildings and buried the pieces underneath the earth. These buildings were sometimes reconstructed.

“One of the important elements in Indian cosmology is rebirth,” Kelly said. “They look out at the world around them; everything is dead now, but in two months it’s going to come back again and be reborn…We start with the building, the burial of the building, the rebirth of the building and the burial again.”

Only 1 percent of these mounds have been excavated to date. The copper workshop was found within Mound 34, where, according to Kelly, pieces of copper were discovered. Cahokians used the metal to create religious ornaments and other decorative items. It’s hypothesized that workers hammered and heated the copper to 600 degrees Celsius to flatten out the metal. The sheets were pressed onto carved wooden templates to create the ornament. The metal may have been obtained from the Great Lakes region. Copper specifically was used because it was considered to have special properties.

“They see that there is power in everything,” Kelly said. “Copper is something that is very powerful so how you handle it, how you deal with it is very important.”

After four centuries, the population of Cahokia began to decline and the city was abandoned. Although it remains unknown why the Cahokians left their city, theories range from environmental factors, like drought driving away inhabitants, to geopolitical issues. Artifacts from 1200 A.D. uncovered in excavations indicate a shift in focus from community life to warfare. The copper workshop itself is dated to 1200 A.D. The Osage tribe located in southern Missouri may have originated from Cahokia. Researchers currently work with the Osage tribe as they excavate, preventing changes to the mound.

Kelly and Brown won a grant from the National Geographic Society to continue their work two years ago. The team turns to current Native American culture to develop their hypotheses and theories regarding the lifestyles of the Cahokians.

Cahokia also presents a unique opportunity to examine the early formation of a city.

“What we’re looking at here is the very beginning of…urbanism,” Kelly said. “So it hasn’t had a chance to really flourish; it’s just starting to come into existence.”

The excavation team hopes to continue its work in the summer. Amateur archaeologist Gregory Perino had first found the copper workshop. In the 1950s, he had been hired to find artifacts for museum display. Kelly and Brown used his maps to retrace the copper workshop. The team now hopes to collect soil samples from the mound to test for copper levels.

Cahokia a Melting Pot of Immigrants

Traditional anthropologists have argued, based on no evidence other than their own beliefs, that the giant Native American metropolis of Cahokia was the result of ‘in situ’ development; i.e., local tribes simply became so populous that they merged to form this metropolis. Yet when archaeologists actually do real science and test the bones they find a completely different story: as many as 1/3 of Cahokia’s residents were immigrants from hundreds of miles away. Read more below:

This small clay vessel was made in eastern Oklahoma but found at Cahokia.  In the past it was interpreted as a trade item, but now it seems more likely it was brought by an immigrant who moved to Cahokia in the 12th century. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

This small clay vessel was made in eastern Oklahoma but found at Cahokia. In the past it was interpreted as a trade item, but now it seems more likely it was brought by an immigrant who moved to Cahokia in the 12th century. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — New evidence establishes for the first time that Cahokia, a sprawling, pre-Columbian city situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, hosted a sizable population of immigrants.

Cahokia was an early experiment in urban life, said Thomas Emerson, who led the new analysis. Emerson is Illinois state archaeologist and the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey at the University of Illinois.

Researchers have traditionally thought of Cahokia as a relatively homogeneous and stable population drawn from the immediate area, he said.

“But increasingly archaeologists are realizing that Cahokia at AD 1100 was very likely an urban center with as many as 20,000 inhabitants,” he said. “Such early centers around the world grow by immigration, not by birthrate.”

The new analysis, reported in the Journal of Archaeological Research, tested the chemical composition of 133 teeth from 87 people buried at Cahokia during its heyday. The researchers looked specifically at strontium isotope ratios in the teeth and in the remains of small mammals from the same area.

“Strontium isotope ratios in rock, soil, groundwater and vegetation vary according to the underlying geology of a region,” the researchers wrote. “As an animal eats and drinks, the local strontium isotope composition of the water, plants and animals consumed is recorded in its skeletal tissues.”

Strontium signatures may not be unique to a location, Emerson said, but the ratios in a person’s teeth can be compared to those of plants and animals in the immediate environment.

“Teeth retain the isotopic signature of an individual’s diet at various periods of life depending on the tooth type sampled, ranging from in utero to approximately 16 years of age,” the researchers wrote. The strontium signature in the teeth can be compared to that of their place of burial, to determine whether the person lived only in that vicinity. Early teeth and later teeth may have different strontium signatures, an indication that the person immigrated.

By analyzing the teeth of those buried in different locations in Cahokia, Emerson, state archaeological survey bioarchaeologist Kristin Hedman and graduate student Philip Slater discovered that immigrants formed one-third of the population of the city throughout its history (from about AD 1050 through the early 1300s).

“This indicates that Cahokia as a political, social and religious center was extremely fluid and dynamic, with a constantly fluctuating composition,” Emerson said.

The findings contradict traditional anthropological models of Cahokian society that are built on analogies with 19th-century Native American groups, Emerson said.

“Cahokia, because it was multiethnic and perhaps even multilingual, must have been a virtual ‘melting pot’ that fostered new ways of living, new political and social patterns and perhaps even new religious beliefs,” he said.

The Illinois State Archaeological Survey is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the U. of I.