Mystery in Louisiana

Lately it’s been fashionable to say that hunter-gatherers lived better than we do. They had more free time, they followed more natural sleep cycles, and so on. But is our picture of hunter-gatherer society right?  A giant earth mound in Louisiana suggests we know less than we think. Anthropologist Tristram R. Kidder explains.


unknownTristram R. Kidder is the Edward S. and Tedi Macias Professor and Chair in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. He studies the evolution of complex human societies in China, Uzbekistan and Eastern Kazakhstan as well as Cahokia, Jaketown and Poverty Point, all in the American Midwest.

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  1. Jane Yorker says:

    Very interesting report!

  2. Rolland Waters says:

    Why was “egalitarian” dropped from the characteristics?

    This was a great short presentation from a fascinating time in our history. However, there’s nothing to suggest for or against egalitarian. If it’s was raised as a prior belief, should it have been crossed out?

    Burning Man comes to mind as a loosely organized, thinly led, mass gathering over a short period of time.

    It seems plausible the short-term nature (90 days tops, correct?) of the construction is more consistent with an egalitarian approach. Particularly for a hunter-gatherer society, wouldn’t an authoritarian approach typically correspond to long term habitation?

  3. Jan says:

    Way too many assumptions.

  4. Dr. Marc Fink AB 79 says:

    Similar thoughts in the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann

  5. Alex Primm says:

    What about the system of hemispherical mounds near the high mounds? Aren’t they signs of long term occupation? How do they fit in?

  6. Dr. R. L. Foster says:

    Almost a thousand years ago, American Indians built a city along the Mississippi River in the middle of North America. Located opposite modern-day St. Louis, Missouri, this city is called Cahokia by archaeologists, and it was as large in its day as New York and Philadelphia before the mid-1700s. Ten thousand indigenous citizens once called it home. Tens of thousands more, farmers mostly, lived in the nearby countryside. For a time, Cahokia was the center of ancient society in North America, and its people changed the course of human history.

    At its peak around AD 1100, the city of Cahokia covered more than five square miles and was made up of 120 earthen pyramids (often called “mounds” today). Built entirely of packed earth, the main pyramid—“Monks Mound”—covered fifteen acres and rose in three major terraces to a height of one hundred feet, making it the third largest in the Americas. A fifty-acre rectangular plaza sat at the foot of this tremendous monument. Other plazas stretched out in all directions, and eighty more pyramids and several more plazas were built in two related mound complexes five to six miles away in present-day St. Louis and East St. Louis. Residential neighborhoods filled the spaces around the mounds and between Cahokia, St. Louis, and East St. Louis. What had caused all of this to happen?

  7. aldabyu says:

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