Cahokia: Mississippian Metropolis

Cahokia: Mississippian Metropolis

Cahokia was the largest city ever built in the pre-columbian United States. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, this city of great mounds and plazas continues to capture our imagination. Join me as I explore the Cahokia in detail and discover how it helped usher in a new Mississippian order across the Eastern United States.

Introduction: 00:00
Big Bang: 6:00
Cahokia site overview: 13:29
Life at Cahokia: 28:16
Cahokian Religion: 31:20
Influence of Cahokia: 34:57
Late Cahokia: 37:54


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  1. Martin Dice on September 16, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    No bows until 700 CE?? I find this hard to believe. A typo maybe?

  2. Strelnikoff on September 16, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    Great video. I live near the Etowah mounds near Cartersville Ga

  3. Ty Biedermann on September 16, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    Shame on the Powells’!

  4. Jesse Wood on September 16, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    That’s sad to hear about the times modern development just destroyed parts of these sites..

  5. Veggieboy Ultimate on September 16, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    Cahokia is a good lesson to modern cities. Some of the things in Cahokia still persists in the cities we have today.

  6. Coolnicknameguy on September 16, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    after watching this Im even more convinced in my theory of a silk road in the Americas going from southern Canada down to Columbia with this place being a major trading hub like Constantinople was. The human sacrifice seems very aztec and seems to be from the same time period as early aztec. The beads from the gulf, I bet sooner or later they will find spear points made of obsidian from the Yucatan if they havent already. I suspect the silk road went through Milwaukee, Chicago, st louis, down the mississippi, around the gulf through Louisiana and Texas to Mexico city down to the Yucatan and then down to columbia, maybe even further south? I also bet there was another root from st louis to chaco canyon in new mexico and if you fallow the corn it pretty much flowed from southern Canada down to Columbia along that same route. Then I hear about the snake mound in Ohio and makes me think they had other split off routes from st lous going east so the silk road was more like the shape of a cross going west to east or east to west across many states but south to north or north to south across southern Canada down to Columbia. I also think that was the fall of this place and others, kinda like a stock market crash, if theres no trade theres no need for wall street kinda thing.

  7. Macd Macd on September 16, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    americans shd respect each other cultures. its a nice mix of colonial descendants, original descendants, n some never seen a brown man since their grandparents bought one… most old kingdoms r dead. americans shd b aware to live together forever. u r great nation of people. fck woke culture n karens.

  8. Rob Swatosh on September 16, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    I lived in Granite City, IL. back in the early 70’s. Maybe, 10 to 15 miles north from here.
    My friends and I would ride our bikes up and down the top all the time. But pushing the bikes up, killed my back.
    Fun ride down. Fast…

  9. Rainer Hurtado on September 16, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    And no, these are not the nephites/lamanites lmao

  10. Jonathan Hall on September 16, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    Hi! I’m an archaeology student and the Eastern Woodlands has been one of my focuses since before I even got into college. I think this is honestly one of the most detailed and well-researched Mississippian history education videos on Youtube! It goes into a lot more in facts and nuance than most people care to bother. Which is why I really hate to give nitpicks in my thoughts and comments, which there are a lot of but also a lot of stuff I liked as well:

    – 4:27 You really can’t talk about the Mississippians without talking about the Hopewell and their antecedents, but I guess you may have videos on that. There’s a lot of cultural continuity that needs going over.

    – 5:30 We don’t know if corn is thanks to the Medieval Warm Period or if the climate phenomenon exactly had an effect in the American Bottom; it could be that a combination of a cold-hardy variety of maize appeared alongside a social revolution that incorporated it. We do know that pre-800-900 maize in the upper Mississippi has been ruled out recently, though, which is more a confirmation of previous consensus.

    – 6:24 Ah, classic Pauketat. He does a lot of great and hard empirical work, but he’s also known to throw stuff like that out there, without necessarily any evidence, just to get people thinking.

    – 7:15 Good mentioning on the reorganizing of Cahokia. It was a really big deal.

    – 7:25 It’s probably worth clarifying mounds were not initially covered in grass. Mississippian mounds had an outer layer of brightly colored clay to seal the whole structure from moisture. Although only a few Cahokian mounds were excavated with this part of the stratigraphy recorded in detail, it’s probably the case here too (and some mounds were given a cap of black clay, presumably to render it decommissioned).

    – 8:22 Which _also_ doesn’t necessarily exist, something else that’s fun to point out to people. There was a Tula (which is also confounded by Nahuas calling every big important city a "Tollan") and it was very likely an important regional center in the Valley of Mexico, but the older narratives of a massive Mexico-spanning empire are very much overblown and cultural similarities are better explained by the interconnected intercultural movements and cultural revolution(s) spurred by Epiclassic migrations, resulting in what Mesoamericanists now dub the International style. This actually has origins _before_ Tula’s construction.

    – 9:17 Is that a Cahokia and the Hinterlands reference? 😉

    – 12:55 Nuanced takes on symbolism, nice.

    – 13:40 Also citing Tim Pauketat, PBS’ Cities in the Sky documentary said Cahokia’s city grid is aligned to both the solstices and the lunar standstills which form the alignment points. But I don’t know which one of Pauketat’s works they’re drawing from.

    – 15:52 Yeah there’s actually a lot of debate on how many terraces Monks’ Mound originally had. What is agreed on is that it used to be one single pyramidal platform and then was buttressed with at least one additional platform (the First Terrace). Support for the Second Terrace being a real thing, at least after a potential initial slump, was confirmed by the presence of clay half-sphere bulkheads providing strengthening support. The Fourth Terrace, however, did not seem to exist at the same time as the Major Structure (the uncreatively named big building on top that seems to be neither temple nor house). Instead, it was constructed after the Major Structure was demolished and a new, smaller building that more clearly seems to be a temple/charnel house was put up. There’s also a few other odd buildings occupying the northern half of the summit alongside Major Structure, but the southern half is actually still mostly unexcavated even though that’s where Nelson Reed thinks that’s where the actual ruler(s)’ house(s) could have been.

    – 16:34 Monks’ Mound and other mounds start out as a large core filled with the readily available "gumbo clay" of the riverbeds of the American Bottom; it’s everywhere, but it also has a very bad problem with keeping its shape, expanding when wet and contracting when dry. This isn’t usually good for a foundation, but it works just fine if the moisture can be controlled. The core can be covered in layers of silt, sand, gravel and other forms of clay to drain the excess moisture and also keep too much from drying out. The baseline moisture level can then be determined largely through the water table but with added layers of stability for short-term changes. For some mounds, including parts of MM, clay or silty-clay can be used to create form-holding bulkheads for the inclusion of other fill. Then there are the added layers of brightly colored clay whose reasons aren’t completely known; they could represent different stages or fill some cosmological purpose.

    And the outer layers of mounds weren’t even basketfuls at all, rather entire "blocks" of cut sod, placed turf-side down to allow the root systems to grip onto the upper layers. This step provided an immense amount of shape retention and for steep surfaces to be built. After that, a veneer of visually appealing clay can be applied.

    – 17:05 This is an unfair assumption. Mounds in general are meant to undergo maintenance in their active life as part of a purpose-built social institution, but after abandonment can still retain their form a lot longer than many European earthworks. After Cahokia was abandoned, trees and shrubs began growing on its surface and the root systems overturned most of the earlier stabilizing structures. But they, in turn, kept the mound mostly intact throughout time.

    The significant majority of the slumping and degradation occurred after the 50s, when the trees were removed and the water table lowered due to all the well digging happening in St. Louis. Without access to groundwater, MM’s gumbo clay core shrunk. With grass in place of trees digging their roots in and all previous waterproofing structures gone, the mound was also vulnerable to outside moisture. So when bad storms started to come MM filled right back up and started shaking apart.

    – 17:22 Sometimes I forget that barrow/borrow is one of those regional things.

    – 24:05 The existence of this sheer quantity of shell beads is also how we know professional craft specialization at Cahokia may well have been a thing. It takes five hours to drill ONE marine shell bead, and the flint microdrill bits have to be replaced every 15 minutes. About 153,710 person-hours of work were put into their production.

    – 24:31 Here the contexts of the Mound 72 burials are being mixed up. While I understand the need for a quick summary, the way it’s worded jumbles the burials together meanwhile each of their unique situations are vastly different and important in their own parts.

    – 25:10 "Sacrifice" is something that’s easy to apply to ancient American contexts with little discretion. In this case, many of the upper layer burials may well have been some form of retainer sacrifice as seen with the Natchez (or Mesopotamia for that matter). But as for the hundreds of people below those burials who don’t seem to have been given any respect in death, Tim Pauketat believes they actually represent a much more political-based execution.

    – 25:38 That’s only true of the smaller portion of the honored dead at the various features, but the ones violently killed below them were ALL local and probably represented members of some kind of distinct community within Cahokia. Hence Pauketat’s interpretation of some kind of potential revolution, especially since it coincided with the reconstruction of Cahokia.

    – 28:52 yay for mentioning the continuance of EAC crops 🙂

    – 29:45 Wattle and daub is also found all around the world. Those old medieval-ish timber frame houses in Europe are basically the same concept.

    – 29:52 omg, going into the house shapes 😩I think a lot of sources think the T-shaped buildings had an elite context to them, coinciding with ethnographic reports, and there are also L-shaped buildings which may have been for storage. The Mound 34 copper workshop at Cahokia also had an irregular shape.

    – 35:25 Ayy this is a pretty good goods overview, but it leaves out one of the most commonly exchanged items in the Middle Mississippian sphere: hoe blades, made from Mill Creek chert! Chert from Mill Creek had the advantages of being incredibly strong and durable, albeit needing more skill to work. The nature of Mill Creek’s relation to Cahokia is frequently debated but there is a chance Cahokia was directly controlling or commissioning Mill Creek for production.

    – 37:30 One of the arguments for Aztalan being a Cahokian outpost is its prime location as a collection and distribution center for both perishable and non-perishable goods. Other places like the Rockland site are also thought to have served this purpose.

    – 41:19 good recent research on deforestation; in hindsight it is a lot to assume a society born into millennia of forest management would forget how to sustainably harvest wood, and that this would affect them more than other societies in similar situations

    And lastly (in the next comment)…

  11. Mark Has Hobbies on September 16, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    So, because of the spread of archery, they had to intensify farming? hmm…

  12. Frankie on September 16, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    way to ruin a documentary not using BC/AD

  13. GhostofCicero on September 16, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    I grew up in Moundville, AL. We were taught that out site was the largest and most important site of the mound building culture. Of course I learned about magnificent Cahokia later in life and was floored by it. Moundville is still an impressive site and I would love for you to do a video on it sometime.

    I did see one comment below regarding something I have pondered for years but seen no scholarly work on. Even as a kid I thought the mounds at Moundville and the art found there was strikingly similar to Central American culture. I figured they built their pyramids out of dirt and clay because they didn’t have access to stone. But is there a solid connection between the cultures? Was there a migration? Trade of ideas? If anyone knows of any solid research to either support of refute a connection please let me know.

  14. Coolnicknameguy on September 16, 2022 at 9:09 pm

    I still think they where the center of major trade and political power and if their main export’s where lumber and corn and they ran out of trees and the crops failed then places like Chaco canyon failed because they relied on Cahokia for food and wood, then the places up north failed and the silk road died and all the natives in America went back to hunter gathering or went south to join the aztecs that where still thriving and that is why you find chinse blood in south American people at times, canadian and northern american tribes had more asian blood, southern tribes in places like AZ and New mexico its more aztec blood and less asian yet even today theres tribal people by the Amazon that have asian features I believe from the asian blooded natives in america and canada that moved south after Cahokia failed. When the silk road died all the natives seemed to spread out like a ripple in water or a spider web, they shoot out into different directions and some became nomadic becoming future tribes to be treated bad by the Europeans in later years. I think from the great lakes to the gulf, to mexico city down to south america there was once great trade for 100s of years but then their economy failed and the whole system and way of life fell apart. Kinda like modern America is. Compare it to NY, NY is what 300 years old at the most? look how big and complex it is, think our system will make it another 200 years before falling apart? Some people in the future dig up NY and are puzzeled why it became abandoned. Well if the system goes so will the big cities, cant grow food, heard animals and hunt in big cities, got to go back out to nature for that and if our money and crops and political system fail these cities ant getting food shipments and wont have cops working for free paying for their own gas to keep order, it will become like the purge with killing and theft so people group up with friends and family and book it to nature, then 300 years later we are a bunch of tribes fighting over resources and land, no longer Americans. Then aliens show up with new deadly germs and superior weapons and numbers and kill us off and take America. NY could be the next Cahokia and Americans the next Indians and aliens the next Europeans. I see modern america failing the same ways I suspect old America failed. We can learn a lot about our future studding their past.

  15. Jackie Binns on September 16, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    Is 1000 CE current ? I don’t think it is

  16. Tommy Embrich on September 16, 2022 at 9:12 pm

    I absolutely loved this documentary, but as a native of Collinsville, IL (which is essentially the town where Cahokia Mounds is located), I’m sad you didn’t reference the infamous world’s largest Catsup Bottle! Ahah 😊😎

  17. Joey Bloey on September 16, 2022 at 9:12 pm


  18. ahuels67 on September 16, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Pulled up to Monks Mound the other day and the dang kids couldn’t care less, need to show them this video and maybe they’d have a little more appreciation for it. Good thing we only live about 30 minutes away

  19. birdman on September 16, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    Where did the aggressor group come from when the palisades were constructed?

  20. Jeffrey Salvador on September 16, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    How did human sacrifice become a thing ?

  21. Steve Romanow on September 16, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    I love your channel. Thank you for the great content.

  22. Rain Stories on September 16, 2022 at 9:19 pm

    my teacher made me write an essay on this

  23. Stutz Bearcat on September 16, 2022 at 9:20 pm


  24. Peter Loo on September 16, 2022 at 9:20 pm

    I’ve lived here my entire life. It’s Collinsville, Illinois. It does NOT reside in East St. Louis. Other than that, GREAT VIDEO ❤️🙌🏽.

  25. Travis Taylor on September 16, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    I love this kind of stuff wish I could have seen it at it’s height

  26. Baha Bobby on September 16, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    A little tip if you’re going to get in the business of history documentaries….
    Add an occasional date for us to navigate with a timeline.
    When was the second mound leveled to destruction is left to only wonder for example. Other than that.
    Enjoyable and insightful

  27. Anna Willoughby on September 16, 2022 at 9:22 pm

    The way you sensationalize the human sacrifice feels very… Colonial.

  28. C S Luau on September 16, 2022 at 9:22 pm

    Very informative and interesting video. One of the better ones I’ve seen on YouTube. I have myself recently found some very compelling initial evidence to suggest that there may have been a presence of people that built earth structures in South Carolina. We already know about the Santee River mounds, but I have always been perplexed why there doesn’t seem to be much if any trace of the Mississippians or Hopewell cultures in South Carolina. I have recently encountered a bit of resistance to the idea and when having some artifacts that I found dated the archaeologists skipped around all over the place. Anything to avoid calling it Mississippian. I found this very frustrating and irritating. It seems that there might have been a multi layer occupation site that seems to have been lost or forgotten about. A couple of entries were made briefly into the archaeological blog many years ago but never followed up on. I seem to be the first person actually Filling in an avocational report form. I’m scratching my head wondering why. I wonder if there was ever any evidence at any of the Mississippian sites of the mining of stone or minerals? Also, I don’t seem to be able to find any reports on raised terrace settlements that did not have large mounds present. It seems to me that the place that I have found is a modified hillside adjacent to a river. It looks like there could be what is left of defensive earthworks but I haven’t finished collecting all the data and measuring them yet because it’s a pretty big task for just one person.

  29. Nicholas Kumburis on September 16, 2022 at 9:22 pm

    I prefer AD and BC to CE and BCE. It is not about religion, heck all the days of the week are named for Norse gods. No one is changing them

  30. Neanderthal Nonsense on September 16, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    Great video. I am so glad I found this channel. I’ve been to Cahokia a few times any time we head out west we make sure to stop. Good stuff

  31. Vow Gallant on September 16, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    "It was a sacred game."
    "It was rife with gambling."
    Yup. People are always gonna people!

  32. Denise Saunchegrow on September 16, 2022 at 9:25 pm

    Every time I go to that area from my PNW home, (Dad and his family were from STL) I spend hours at Cahokia. Still find it so interesting.

  33. Sonoftha Queens'enChiefs on September 16, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    What a whole crock of lies… LMAO.😂🤣😂.. this country was founded/stolen in what? 1776!! And they hadn’t even crossed the Appalachian mountains! So how do they know anything about Us.. and we’re still here.. the Red/Copper skin American Indian/ aboriginals…

  34. Jonathan O'Toole on September 16, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    BC & AD.

  35. skinny on September 16, 2022 at 9:32 pm

    Hi! I’m currently a grad student studying anthropology, specifically ethnohistory. I had a question regarding the Powell family. Where could I find more information about the Powell family or would it most likely be in newspapers and such? Keep up the great work.

  36. Karel Vorster on September 16, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    I never listen to CE/BCE documentaries. The hypocrisy makes me sick.

  37. Ryan Deeken on September 16, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    4:50 my least favorite phrase to hear when learning about history. STOP LOSING STUFF TO TIME PLEASE

  38. Oscar Belmar on September 16, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    9:04 there are one or two mounds left on the st. Louis side of the mississippi. You can see one right off highway 55 near Chippewa. My family always knew it as sugarloaf mound. There was a house on top of it for many years, but the Osage nation fought a lengthy legal battle to have the house demolished and take ownership of the mound.

  39. Nick Perro on September 16, 2022 at 9:35 pm

    The worst part is that there are no written records. These people could have had a mythology as extensive and interesting as Greek and Egyptian mythology but we’ll never know it.

  40. jonny clayborn on September 16, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    Omg. I know the powells here in kc. I love this. I was friends in school with a powell who ended up going to haskell university on full scholarship. I think the conical mounds have alot of weird energy to them.

  41. Alex Mason on September 16, 2022 at 9:38 pm

    As a half Choctaw we are mound builder’s and descended from the Mississippians

  42. Suns Tirade on September 16, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    I live within 45 minutes of this. The amount of arrow heads and practice targets we find in the local farming fields is pretty impressive!

  43. schweizer1940 on September 16, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    The archeologist show nothing but ignorance!!

  44. Mop Spear on September 16, 2022 at 9:45 pm

    How do you use CE with a straight face?

  45. Ebertwix on September 16, 2022 at 9:48 pm

    Cahokia failed. It never rose from the ashes of whatever ended it. Either the culture of the people who made it didn’t allow for its advancements, or they were backwards minded and decided banding together wasn’t in their benefit

  46. Geoffrey de Brito on September 16, 2022 at 9:50 pm

    Why is no one talking about the human sacrifice of young women that Chahokian rulers practiced?
    "When Mound 72 was first excavated in 1967, researchers uncovered more than 270 people buried there in a series of mass graves. Many of them were victims of human sacrifice."

  47. Coolnicknameguy on September 16, 2022 at 9:50 pm

    13:34 could true north have been 5 degrees different back then?

  48. The Southern Lady on September 16, 2022 at 9:52 pm

    Where is the proof of all these wild claims?
    It amazes me, the stories archaeologists can spin off of a few digs and some pottery.
    It gets explained as if it is pure fact, which it is not, instead of the theories and ideas they actually are.
    Children raised listening to this, like this narrator, for example, are taught this stuff in such a way that they would not doubt the stories and question the evidence for themselves. That is not true science… of any sort.

  49. Dubuya Jay on September 16, 2022 at 9:52 pm

    Video on the East Texas Caddo? I think they had similar mounds.

  50. Coolnicknameguy on September 16, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    be funny if all pyramids where dirt under the stone and these mounds where really pyramids waiting on their stone they never got.

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