Anyway, prolegomena, check. Horror? Starting now.
The place is Tsenacomoco, Virginia between the Fall Line and the shore. More specifically, it is the fall hunting camp of the weroance Opechancanough, rich in manitou. He is attended by a skilled quiyoughcosuck, people seeking his favour, and one of the trousered men from beyond the sea, who appears to be promising to aid the weroance in making war on the Monacans above the Line, who control access to stone.
For stone is important to the people who flock to Opechancanough's hunting camp, and scarce on the outflow silt of the lowlands. The weroance surrounds himself with a guard of twenty men armed with macahuitls, while many of the poor who attend him depend on sharp shells for the heavy work of butchering. In this fall of 1607, the weroance does not yet understand that the advent of the trousered men means that the stone, copper, and crystal of the mountains is no longer precious. On the contrary, they have impressed locals by simply throwing their stone ballast by the way.
For whatever reason, not all trousered men are equal, and a common sailor, George Casson, has fallen into Opechancanough's hands at a bad time. He is tied hand and foot to two stakes, set between two fires, and when the weroance tires of berating him, a quiyoughcosuck (probably) slips up behind him
[B]randishing mussel shells and reeds. Using the edges of the shells as blades,and the reeds as cheese-wires, the executioner systematically set about cutting through the flesh and sinews of Casson's joints, stretched out between the staves. As each of his limbs was removed,it was cst upon the fire, until only his head and trunk were left, writhing helplessly on the blood-soaked ground.
Turning the torso over, so Casson faced the ground, the executioner carefully cut a slit around the neck, then slipped a mussel shell beneath the skin. He proceeded to ease off the scalp, and, turning the body back over again, gently unpeeled Casson's face from the skull. He then slit open Casson's abdomen, and pulled out his stomach and bowels, which steamed in the cold winter air. Casson's remains then joined the rest of his body to burn on the fire, until only his dried bones were left, which, according to White, were gathered up and deposited in a 'by-room' in one of the tents. (Woolley, 114.)
Casson was already in bad odour down at Jamestown. He was linked to one of the early Governors of the Jamestown Colony, a John Sicklemore. Unfortunately for himself, if he dis so innocently, Sicklemore travelled under an alias, by which he was better known. He was John Ratcliffe, one of the early governors, although he had already lost a power struggle by the time a condemned man, another common sailor, blurted out his secret identity in a vain attempt to stay his own execution. Ratcliffe is thus a bit of a mystery, upon which others have attempted to build further. A Ratcliffe received a major land grant in Beaufort County, North Carolina, and only two Ratcliffes are known in America in this timeframe to have received it. There is Ratcliffe himself, and a Roanoke Colony man, and the myths to which I refer attach this grant to the Roanoke man, who must then have survived the failure of that colony and shown up at Jamestown a generation later to receive his due, and in all this never recorded. At least, in a surviving text. (That is, if I read the sanitised account in Wikipedia correctly.)
Which is all very unlikely, and the only reason that we attend it is that in the winter of 1609, Govenor John (Sicklemore) Ratcliffe died the same death as George Casson, except at the hands of the weroance known to history as King Powhatten.
That's right. A former and recent Governor of Jamestown with powerful patrons at home was stretched out between the fires and ritually butchered by the great Powhatten. And, in later times, this was taken as a thing that happened by the men who attended on Powhatten and sued for his daughters' hands. Because that's the way that things happened in the Seventeenth Century --on both sides of the Atlantic. Although on the eastern shore the king set the quarters about the city rather than reserving the bones to his private ossuary. Bearing in mind that Sicklemore may have been a former Catholic priest and informer, his fate might have an element of ironic justice to it.
Either way,we have a very different use of the same thing: people disembodied and thus turned into a sort of symbolic capital. Powhatten had the bones of a governor, Opechancanough a mere common sailor, and so we see how Powhatten on the way out in 1607, was back on top in 1618. (He was even dispossessed of his capital, a part of modern Richomond, when the weroance Parahunt sold it to John Smith for a likely slave boy, Henry Spelman.
Powhatten's movements from one to another "capital," illustrate the anthropological meaning of the phrase "disembodied capital." Ever since Nimrod erected the Tower of Babel, rulers have attempted to register new departures and social revolutions by building themselves new residence cities. Sargon's Akkad may have been one. I've already talked about Epaminondas' move with Messene; Constantine's Constantinople marks an epoch. St. Petersburg is the model of record for Washington, D.C. One could take my basic argument and make an overly romantic move with it and have Cahokia a model for Washington. More defensibly, you could make Teotihuacan the model for Cahokia via intermediaries.
I'm going to try to unpack this with the history of technology: specifically, the technology of Mode IV stone tools. But first I'm going to talk about Mormons.
Start with the Book of Mormon. No,wait, start with The Pioneers: Or, The Sources of the Susquehanna: A Descriptive Tale. Natty Bumppo has been arrested for violating the game laws, has broken out of jail, and has fled to a secret cave in the mountain. In reality, and to his shame, the local magnate, Judge Temple, has darker motivations. He has been persuaded on scientific grounds that Bumppo is working a silver mine on the Judge's vast property, the former Effingham Grant. Important as the game laws are to him, they are but a pretext for the Judge to mobilise the local militia and occupy Bumppo's cave. There, the Judge's errors are revealed. There is no silver in the cave, but rather Major Effingham, age-wrecked hero of the Seven Years War. (Sir John St. Clair?) Various further revelations ensue, including that the "scientific" advice that the Judge has been following comes from a treasure finder using a crystal peepstone. The advisors are discredited, and the Judge's beautiful daughter marries the Major's handsome grandson.
The only thing missing in Cooper's dramatic resolution is that the treasure finder was right. There was a treasure in that cave. The Grant, which is title to land, is title to rents. Those rents are a genealogico-romantic treasure. They could be made to go away if the Grant was set aside, and every freeholder around Templeton would benefit. Instead, the land ends up in the hands of the renewed Effingham dynasty. The capital remains embedded in the history with which Cooper so frequently teases us. The Effinghams remain great, and the peepstone seer remains small.
The Prophet Joseph Smith tells another story. Long ago, about 400AD, a civilisation built in North America by the misplaced Lost Tribes of Israel was divided (as happens) between apostates and a saved remnant. Civil war ensues. The saved remnant of Nephites is comprehensively defeated in a battle in upstate New York by the apostate Lamanites. One of their leaders, a fellow named Moroni, inters the records of this and much else into an artificial mound of the well-known American sort at a place called Cumorrah, and wanders off and has such further adventures as might be appropriate to someone fated to be apotheosised, or at least angelised For it is Moroni who returns to the Earth and conducts Joseph Smith in a series of spirit walks to Cumorrah (then on private property), at the end of which, in 1827, he provides Smith with these records, in the form of golden plates to be mysteriously read through crystals.
Which story would in itself make the young Smith a crystal-gazing treasure even were it not for the fact that that was his reputation about Palmyra. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Book of Mormon is a reply to The Pioneers. The peepstone seer penetrates the secret treasure cave on private property, and this time he gets away with a the genealogical treasure. For the Lamanites, whatever their sins, are the ancestors of the modern American Indian, and the Book of Mormon is their title deed to the hair-raisingly mysterious monuments amongst which Joseph Smith and his contemporaries were raised, and to America itself. And, of course, in my crazy theory, more of Joseph Smith's white contemporaries had Lamanite blood than not. Kinda puts the whole polygamy thing in a different light, right? Not to mention the parallel prohibitions on alcohol and coffee.
Smith, in other words, had a revelation that grounded a potentially powerful populist position in Bible history. And history isn't always about disinterested scientific inquiry into what ancient nerds did with carefully prepared cores, antler prongs, and hammers. Sometimes, it is about politics. History is the working-out of the right kind of ideology. And in this sense of history as a providential revelation, the only kind that mattered to the contemporaries that Smith was trying to reach was Bible history. His Book took that history out of the hands of elites and made it available to the common Lamanite.
Yeah, I know. "Mormons as populists" won't necessarily fly. These days, the Mormons vote Republican and the two Mormon candidates in the race are both GOPers. I'll leave the partisan and ideological genealogy to others. But there's no changing the fact that as the Mormons headed west, they built one disembodied capital after another, attempting to wrench America out of its old, and into a new and, to their minds, better history. Smith built American Zions at Independence and Far West in Missouri, at Nauvoo, Illinois, and in Kirtland, Ohio before Brigham Young finally settled for Salt Lake City.
None of these locations suggest a community at the heart of American life, although the Nauvoo setting is apparently more impressive than most, a flat bottom along the Mississippi shore dominated by an isolated hill. If you're focussed enough on the subject, the description will remind you of Cahokia, with the conflation of real and artificial hilll seen at Cumorrah (and for that matter Saint Bridget's Hill of Croghan.) It was at Nauvoo that Smith introduced plural marriage and his version of ordination, just like the proliferating public and private ceremonials of the "ritualities" that some theorists now like to invoke in preference to the idea of an archaic state. To take this strained analogy one step further Smith's Church of Latter Day Saints began to show signs of what the anthropologists who study Cahokia called "heterarchy," with presidencies and quorums and even a touch of hereditary succession. Or I'm putting more weight on after the fact accounts will bear. It remains the case that after Smith was murdered in jail and Nauvoo sacked, Mormonism splintered.
It's not that we're surprised by this. The reason that I'm pushing this isn't because I'm persuaded that heterarchy is a useful analytic notion. We went this way in Twentieth Century History, reading Nazi-era Berlin as a tangle of rival power centres all competing for Hitler's favour before realising that we had got to the point where we could use our analytic categories practically anywhere. No modern society, and still more no ancient one, can be simply modelled as a pyramid of authority descending from a single all-powerful god king. There are alternate centres, centres of collaboration and resistance. To put it in spatial terms, we can look at Washington, D.C., with its Congress and White House and Pentagon and place-where-the-Supreme-Court-hangs-out and such other places as we might choose to see as heterarchic rivals to the first two. Or, more usefully, if cynically, I might point to a modern college campus. Shouldn't we expect the place where anthropology professors work to feature in their reconstructions of the silent past? Cahokia has complementary temple mounds, plazas for public rituals and ceremonial games of of chunkey, even an observatory. Isn't this a great deal like a campus, with its departments and centres and stadiums and Student Unions? Certainly, the more distant campus life becomes to me, the more I remember it as a rituality, stitched together by Halloween and Convocations and the annual fights over Pride Day and the Godiva Ride. (There were exams, too. Looking back, I suspect that I should have paid more attention to them.)
I've gone on this long diversion because even though I started out by talking about a grisly public ritual involving literally taking the bones out of a human and turning them into the private capital of a politician, and moved on to talking about successful and less-successful efforts to build disemobied capitals, in the end the college campus seems like the best analogy to understand what is going on at Cahokia. And, self-reflexively, I worry that it is because writers like Byers and Yoffee and Pauketat are so smart, so persuasive. I will, however, say that I'm not substituting knowledge production, the ostensible purpose of a college campus, for the production of social power or the creation of an intangible capital that will make a long-distance trade in stone possible. I'm saying that they're pretty much the same thing. For knowledge to be produced, you have to believe the person you're teaching. They have to have authority. They have to have credit.
So: Cahokia. It seems that perhaps about 1050AD, a group of people came together at this place on the Great American Bottom and consciously planned a city modelled on Teotihuacan, or rather, on what by now was a distant story about that place. So say, rather, "Tollan," and ignore, just this once, and on this subject, the brilliant anthropologists who qualify this.* The city consisted of amazing square, stepped, four-cornered pyramids, just like at Teotihuacan, except that, being made of earth, they required constant maintenance, which was integrated into their public ritual as a springtime world-renewal ceremony. It was also the site of less impressive, but still characteristic private residences, the so-called wall-trench wattle-and-daub private residences.
Cahokia was clearly chosen for good reason, and, unlike many such sites, survives more-or-less intact today, for some of the same reasons. To wit, it floods a lot, and was part of the historic estate of the powerful and prominent Ramey family for many years after the early 1860s, and they kept a paternal eye on it.
Its historic virtues are clear. It had been occupied before the beginning of this "Mississippian horizon," and would be occupied again, as a major town of French Illinois in the Eighteenth Century, right behind Kaskaskia, not too far up the road, a town similar to Cahokia in being historically important and, in modern times, obscure. The Bottom is good farmland. It is also tucked under the left-bank bluffs of the conjoined Mississippi and Missouri, giving it a slightly drier-than-average-for-the-area microclimate, perhaps an advantage in those days. More importantly, and it took some digging to discover this, the reason that there's an old Kaskaskia-Cahokia road is that it is a remnant of the old Buffalo Trace. Buffalo herds would descend the bluffs at St. Louis, swim the Mississippi (perhaps --I'm not so sure of this), and definitely ascend the left-bank at the cut of Cahokia Creek. The crossings of the Kaskaskia and of the Wabash at Vincennes corralled the herds in on their way to the Falls of the Ohio, beyond which lay the vital mineral licks of the Appalachian plateau. It's a route that strings together the ample grazing of the bottomland prairie with the limiting resource of the mineral licks, and Vincennes at least was established to trade in buffalo pelts. Saint Louis-boosters would also remind you that Cahokia is at the geographic centre of America. Where better to draw together the long-distance trade networks of ancient America?
Be that as it may, ample archaeological evidence illustrates the fact that Cahokia did more than just trade. It is also the site and source of a complex of symbols and icons that anthropologists group together in something originally called "the Southern Cult," and now known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. The original label is fairly descriptive. A strong argument can be made that missionaries from Cahokia spread a complex set of beliefs that we can fairly call a cult (or group of cults) that together constituted a rituality upon which local power centres could build their own partial imitations of Cahokia. Later, and especially after the fall of Cahokia, the power centres diverged in their iconography and presumably in beliefs. After about 1450AD, anthropologists no longer see a "Southern Cult."
That being said, the Cult is identifiable by copper plastrons shaped into the form of scalps, and by persistent images of defleshed (scalped) skulls, limbs, and other bones. The inference is gruesome, sometimes very gruesome. And the unfortunate fates of George Casson and John Ratcliffe suggest that some aspects of Southern Cult rituality survived into the Contact period.
So it is all-too easy to see the Southern Cult as being about horrifying public ritual murders. Except that the horror was the exceptional case (however we theorise it) and the more common and characteristic ritual of the Southern Cult was probably a Calumet ceremony of ritual adoption. In one sense, a powerful enabler for long-distance travel and communication/trade/credit building. On the other, Tim Pauketat has theorised, a way of managing and moderating cultural and linguistic divergence. I'll buy that.
See, I may be just hallucinating a useful analogy, but in 1675, Father Jacques Marquette, accompanied by Louis Joliet preached a public mass at Old Kaskaskia, otherwise known as the Grand Village of the Illinois. For perhaps the next fifteen years, some 6000 Indians of many nations lived together in the great village, receiving regular French visits. Then they all "disappeared," just ahead of the beginning of serious French settlement. The Kaskaskia Mission was founded in 1703, and was very different from Cahokia in that its ritual centre was a stonebuilt church, rather than an earthen mound. Although what the church was built on is another matter entirely.
What happened at Kaskaskia is obvious. The French brought a massive basket of new technologies embedded in a new social order called "Christianity." Muskets; domestic livestock; ironworking; glass windows; mills; wheat; horses; and, most exciting of all, if the experience of Anglo-Saxon kings avidly bidding for architect-missionaries is any precedent, masonry. The political landscape of Cahokia was earth mounds over wattle-and-daub; that of the new was of stone buildings centring clapboard. After a 145 year transitional phase, in which its full implications were explored we have, yes, a disembedded capital.
What happened at Cahokia is less so, and not just because we only have iconography rather than text. After all, The Jesuit Relations don't really tell us what happened at Kaskaskia, either. We might well be at see if the technological changes weren't so profound, and so clearly inscribed on the landscape. Cahokia is more distant, stranger. Stone is stone. Since Jared Diamond, we can't even write it off to the "invention of agriculture." The precursors to Cahokia were cultivating and storing a variety of chenopods and panicums. People (well, Jared Diamond) make a fuss about big seeded-plants and the invention of agriculture, but, really, there's a great many to choose from. Corn, wheat and rice are the big three for a reason, unless you happen to be in the market to buy whatever wonder crop is being sold today; but, really, if you're of a mood to invent agriculture, any will do. And, come to that, there's an argument for fibre and oilseed crops over the big three cereals, anyway.
Besides, every day it seems like archaeologists find an earlier date for the first corn grown in notheastern North America. We used to have a model that Jared Diamond would probably like, even if I can't remember whether it is in Germs, Gunpowder, and Steel or not. According to it, flint corn --as anyway seems intuitively obvious-- is a better crop than those others, and came along as a fortunate mutation about 800AD. It spread north rapidly, and set off a chain reaction of population-intensification culminating in mound-building and, tah-dah, Cahokia. With all of the older sites, not to mention botanists noticing flint corn precursors being grown for centuries prior to 800AD in the Guatemalan highlands, we've had to throw that out. Even more embarrassingly, Hopewell Horizon Indians rather obviously adopted tobacco from Mesoamerica centuries before corn (or, at least, before corn became widespread), while ignoring peppers and tomatoes right through contact.
It's beginning to look like
There's a much more powerful explanation. The transition from the small, finely made tools of the Paleo-Indians to more recent is telling indication of the adoption of the bow. True, we see large, carelessly made tools that look like they are meant to be left at a routinely-used site,but they are a necessary byproduct of arrow making. What they do is encourage sedentism in a way that has nothing to do with "agriculture." A place like Cahokia, rich in varied riverine resources is tied to what we now understand as a "Broad Spectrum Revolution," a transition from a primary focus on the most efficient food source --large prey animals-- to a wide range of smaller ones, extending down to lowly heads of marsh grass.***
Nor is this the end of matters. Cahokia is similar to better-attested cities in another way. It has craft quarters, and on some of those quarters, people specialise in making the most time-consuming of all Neolithic stone tools, the polished stone axes necessary to break the soil and plant, say, corn. And, of course, like the followers of Joseph Smith after them, they especially treasure crystals from the mountains, through which they honestly think they can glimpse the secrets of another world. It's the old problem of science and technology studies; they're right, and they're wrong.
So what I'm seeing here is cycles of intensification and technological change. It doesn't start with invention; it starts with location. The riches of the location make the re-invention of the bow-and-arrow possible, which in turn permits the emergence of a range of specialised tools suitable for broad-spectrum living, which in turn makes possible what we call (corn-based) agriculture (which I'm now going to call out as an ideological move rather than as a useful descriptor of a stage of human civilisation).
So why did I begin with architecture? Especially in the old days, Cahokia must have been uninhabitable more Springs than not. To make Cahokia work in its full complexity, people had to be brought back to it, season by season, united with toolstone for them to process, and coordinated in the great public acts of building, maintenance, sport and ritual that seemed vital to making the whole thing work. The pyramids of Cahokia, I suggest, work like any other political landscape. They make this huge social act seem natural and inevitable by anchoring a cosmology that assures people that this is just what people do, and have to do. That cosmology, so largely lost to us, is the Southern Cult. It has pyramids, and calumet ceremonies. It has chiefly ossuaries that contain their victims as well as their ancestors. It has human sacrifice, and adoption ceremonies. It has elaborate gifts from far away, as well as the stone brought down from the mountains to the bottoms.
Let's not call this trade: the bearers were rewarded with feasts and beautiful things to take back, not with practicalities that could be measured against the time and effort required to bring stone down to the bottoms. It was gift exchange that built up an invisible capital; again, credit.
And that last is more than ritually/culturally/call-this-stuff-whatever-you-like-to-underline-the-fact that-it-isn't-real. Credit can just go away. People abandoned Cahokia. A simple story would have it that they did so after internalising these corn-raising technologies, in the way that the Mayan Lowland cities were so widely and thoroughly abandoned that you have to think that the social/organisational need for them had vanished as well. Was it something like this? It was certainly routinely violent, because Mississippian society was routinely violent. Looking at something like the maiden burials in Cahokia Mound 72, it is easy to see why Pauketat spends much of Chiefdoms and Other Delusions dancing around the possibility that Cahokia was deliberately forgotten.
But it might not have been so. It wasn't necessarily a kinder world that followed. Consider the discourse that Opechancanough inscribed on George Casson. The weroance, rich in manitou, had Casson taken apart by shells and not stone blades. This might sound like too crude a reading entirely, but is the mighty weroance reminding us that if we don't gather together to celebrate and enhance his manitou, we'll all be stuck with shell blades? If so, I think that we might need to focus a little more closely on the chronology of the Southern Cult. Brain and Phillips (not Pinkie) have called for bringing the central period of the Southern Cult up to the early Historic period. Everyone else disagrees, and it is hard to believe that the consensus is wrong. But it might be interesting to see what we get out of an external cut-off of the long tail of the Southern Cult.
So that's it. We're done with the mounds into which weroances rich in manitou have been gathering the bones since at least the Hopewell Horizon. We're not done because either of these things is past, of course. The bones are still there, and so are the mounds. The question is, rather, how are we going to use them? Are we going to hide them away on private property, secret statements couched in Cooper's riddles? Or are we going to disembed them and use our peepstones to see into the past, the better to understand it and our future as North Americans.
I vote the latter. I say that the real shame of Joseph Smith's descendants amongst the Latter Day Saints isn't that they might vote for Mitt Romney. It's that they've stopped taking Moroni seriously.
*Status anxiety, he said, unkindly and dismissively. But it is! I think. We want something so much that the very act of wanting it makes us insecure about whether we can ever have it.
**Ames, Fuld, and Davis follow Jim Railly (see below) in American Antiquity 75 (Fall, 2010). An extended bibliographic reference is available, but apparently I would have to retype it. I can't believe that I still can't cut-and-paste out of my Source List in Word2010. What the hell?
***Cribbed here from Sarah Roberts, “Climate Change and the Broad Spectrum Revolution in Europe?” (65—79).Robyn H. Inglis and Alexander J. E. Pryor, eds., Beyond Determinism: Engagement and Response in Human-Environment Interactions (Archaeological Review From Cambridge 24, 2. [November 2009]). My available time for reviewing archaeological literature is