Timothy R. Pauketat is an American archaeologist, director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, the Illinois State Archaeologist, and professor of anthropology and medieval studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He is known for his historical theories and his investigations at Cahokia, the major center of precolonial Mississippian culture in the American Bottom region of Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri.
Pauketat was exposed to archaeology at an early age, growing up amid family heirlooms and Native artifacts scattered about his family's property. Early on, he met Brad Koldehoff, who was similarly exposed to archaeology while growing up on the other side of their home town of Millstadt, Illinois. In high school, he took an art class from Al Meyer, a veteran of the Mound 72 excavations at Cahokia. Pauketat's enthusiasm for archaeology grew. A few years later, Pauketat attended Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, graduating in 1983 with a B.S. in Anthropology and Earth Sciences. His professors included Drs. Sidney Denny, William Woods, Charlotte Frisbie, Ted Frisbie, Alan Stueber, and Ronald Yarbrough. During college he worked as an intern for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District, learning from lead archaeologist Terry Norris, another veteran of the Mound 72 excavations at Cahokia. As a college student, he worked most summers on SIU-Edwardsville archaeology projects and, briefly, with the Center for American Archaeology, a cultural resource management program based at Kampsville, Illinois. Moving to SIU-Carbondale for a Masters degree, he was a research assistant for the Black Mesa archaeological project and as assistant curator for SIU-Carbondale from 1983-1984. At Carbondale, he learned from George Gumerman, Brian Butler, Jon Muller, George Sherman, Lynne Sullivan, William Andrefsky, Jr., and Robert Rand. He corresponded with the eminent professor James B. Griffin of the University of Michigan, who encouraged him to be critical of received wisdom.
Pauketat earned an M.A. in Anthropology from SIU-Carbondale in 1986 and then left for the University of Michigan to pursue his doctorate. At Michigan, Pauketat worked with Professors Henry Wright, Richard Ford, John O'Shea, and Jeff Parsons, and teamed up with then-students Preston Miracle, Andrew Darling, Alex Barker, David Anderson, and John Robb. A particularly memorable field encounter that he, Preston Miracle, and David Anderson had with the "dark forces" of American capitalism in 1987 is recorded in his 2007 book Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions..He earned his PhD in Anthropology in 1991.
Pauketat did a one-year post-doc at the University of Illinois as a visiting researcher with Charles Bareis, and in 1992 started as an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. During this period, he published his dissertation as his first single-authored book, The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America (1994). In 1996 he moved to the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York as an associate professor. In 1998, he accepted a position at the University of Illinois, where he became a full professor in 2005.He has published numerous professional papers, book chapters, additional books, and earned a Distinguished Service award from his department.
The years between the mid 1990s and the mid 2010s were filled with field work, field schools, and laboratory study. With funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Geographic, the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation, Pauketat led excavations at a series of endangered archaeological sites on the margins of Greater Cahokia, including the Halliday, Pfeffer, Grossmann, and Emerald Acropolis sites. Up until 2019, he regularly taught classes such as “Introductory World Archaeology” and “Archaeological Theory".He also led the annual University of Illinois archaeological field school for 17 out of the 20 years that his primary appointment was with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. In 2019, he assumed the role of the Director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), a subdivision of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. As Director, he oversees the research and compliance archaeology of upwards of 100 staff and is engaged in transforming the research and engagement activities of ISAS, the largest archaeological organization of its kind in the U.S.
Pauketat is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the archaeology journal Antiquity.
Pauketat has concentrated his own research on Cahokia, an Indigenous city at the center of a large, regional Mississippian culture that extended its influence up and down the Mississippi Valley and across its tributaries. He has excavated in Cahokia's grand plaza and surrounding settlements and platform mounds.He has also worked at outlying sites such as Halliday, Pfeffer, and Emerald in the uplands of the Mississippi valley. He ranks Cahokia as the prime society in the Mississippian world. The finding of similar mundane and ritual implements such as pottery, chunkey stones, and Mississippian stone statuary in locations as far afield as sites such as Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma, and the presence of resources from distant locales such as the Gulf of Mexico at Cahokia, show the extent of Cahokia's historical and political connections to the greater Mississippian world. He has entangled this spread of Cahokian material culture with the effects of a pax Cahokiana, all of which contributed to Cahokia's far-reaching influence.
Pauketat has used research from contemporaneous archaeological sites to formulate a comprehensive, large-scale picture of the Mississippian world. He is interested in investigating such questions as the emergence of civilization, especially as we might imagine that today to have involved human and other-than-human forces. He has investigated culture areas beyond the Mississippian heartland to define what he once called his "historical processual" approach. Today, that approach has been extended to draw on New Materialist theories and a variety of ontological or relational approaches to history and humanity.
Whatever the theoretical underpinnings, Pauketat has always relied on hard data and artifacts to discover new or previously ignored information. Doing so led him to an early reconstruction of Cahokian urban history as beginning around A.D. 1050, when pre-Cahokian settlements were suddenly transformed into the large, planned community of Cahokia proper, marked by a sudden preponderance of houses and the rapid adoption of wall-trench housing that replaced the previously common post-wall housing. Also during this time, a distinctive pattern of farmsteads developed in the uplands east of Cahokia proper, dubbed the "Richland complex" by Pauketat. The walls of houses in Richland farming settlements were set into trenches, but some post-wall and hybrid-wall forms were discovered. Initially considered an example of cultural resistance, the hybrid and traditional forms were later realized to be the homes of immigrants to the Greater Cahokia region. The documented Richland complex farmsteads are estimated to have housed thousands of persons, representing a huge population shift. This shift did not originate from local inhabitants, however, as pottery styles attest.
Pauketat and his colleagues noticed a great amount of artifact diversity among Richland sites, including some non-local pottery styles (“Varney Red Filmed”), and pottery-making methods of the local style (shell-tempered) that differed from the norm (thicker walls, etc.) These villages have fewer finely crafted items or ritual objects and a high percentage of workshop debris, likely indicating their purpose as support communities for the Cahokian elite. His notion of a transplanted farmer population is supported by the complete abandonment of these upland villages at the same time of Cahokia’s presumed collapse around two centuries later.
Pauketat questions established knowledge about ancient North America. For instance, due to improvements in radiometric dating and new methodologies, such as identification of domestic remains, he and other researchers have concluded that Cahokia rose and fell over a much shorter time period, around three hundred years, than had been previously attributed. The ubiquity of Cahokian-derived goods across much of then contemporaneous Midwest and Mid-South U.S. has also been examined. While this distribution was most certainly due to an exchange network, Pauketat posits relations between Cahokians and other Mississippians as not being purely environmentally determined, following previous interpretations (by who?). Rather, he suggests that political relationships inspired much of the trading, as their natural environment satisfied their needs for survival. By trading, Cahokia may have been trying to bring outsiders within their sphere of influence, evidenced in the sudden large amount of Cahokian material culture found outside of Cahokia. At a more local scale, the sudden appearance and proliferation of Cahokian artifacts is coupled with housing reorganization of peoples and the incorporation of greater Cahokia.
Due to the nature of American archaeology, Pauketat participated in “salvage” or cultural resource management early on. This archaeology removes and documents cultural material before modern development destroys it. Today, he leads the largest rescue-archaeology or cultural resource management organization in the United States. Though often much more limited in scope and time than academic archaeology, Pauketat's book, The Ascent of Chiefs..., details how artifacts in part “salvaged” from the construction of a highway through Cahokia can be used to achieve the highest kind of intellectual knowledge production. Dividing up the artifacts by radiometrically dated and ceramic-seriated phases, he noted an increasing number of foreign goods as time progressed during the pre-Cahokian era. In that study, he interpreted this pattern to suggest the emergence of a new subcommunity or class of elites.
In an interview with Peter Shea in 2013, Pauketat characterized his work as being about objects and their relationships to people. He insisted on the importance of research into materials as the only way to understand people and their histories, if not humanity itself. While respectful of the work of historians, he yet asserts that the written record misses important aspects of the human history. He says that understanding history means exploring the materiality of the past. He describes his approach to the past as being "object heavy."More recently, in a series of lectures, he has emphasized the importance of the archaeology of the intangible.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Pauketat championed practice-based, agency-focused, and phenomenological theories in archaeology, initiated as part of the post-processual movement in the 1980s and 1990s. These theories culminated in his 2007 book, Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions.Post-processual theory was a critique of processual archaeology, sometimes associated by critics with postmodernism. Today, the distinction is disappearing, as all archaeologists use the scientific method for basic inference construction. Theories of identity, landscape phenomenology, and agency are now central to 21st-century explanations of the past.
Pauketat advocates a more historical approach to theory and a more theoretical approach to history.Practice theory also contributes to his understanding, that is, understanding changes in people’s habits and actions, provides an explanation for changes in the archaeological record. Pauketat stated that “... practices are always novel and creative, in some ways unlike those in other times or places...” when understood within their historical context. One method to ascertain the historical influences on practices is discerning traditions, or practices with a long temporal dimension. Traditions are the forms of practice most visible in the archaeological record; they can range from an arrowhead style to the preponderance of shell-tempered pottery throughout the U.S. Mid-South and Midwest during the Mississippian era. Tracking the change of archaeologically defined traditions tracks the changes of the archaeological culture, since tradition is a measure through which change can take place.
With regard to Cahokia, Pauketat used practice theory to interpret the proliferation of the chunkey stone. Pre-Cahokian American Bottom dwellers were using an early form of this round disc with two concave sides as early as 600 AD. This artifact is not found outside this region until the height of Cahokia about 400 years later. The sudden popularity and proliferation of the game pieces across the Mid-South and Southeast U.S. at this time suggests mass organization of the game played with this shaped stone. The massive plazas at Cahokia would have been an ideal setting, and large enough to accommodate all parts of Cahokian society. The organizers of the games, likely the Cahokian elite, could bring together all levels of society by using a longstanding tradition. This game tradition retained its prestige, continuing to be practiced until the 19th century among certain Native American tribes. It was ethnographically documented as a competition for the losing side’s worldly possessions.
After 2008, Pauketat turned to rethink religion and agency in human history, often through the lens of archaeoastronomy. Between 2009 and 2011, he worked with Danielle Benden and Robert Boszhardt (independent) to lead "The Mississippian Initiative" (funded by the National Science Foundation). The trio investigated sites in western Wisconsin at sites including the Fisher Mounds Site Complex and Trempealeau, which they believe to have been a short-term Cahokian "shrine complex," mission, or colony. In Wisconsin, they found evidence that the effects of Cahokians colonizing the north country in the 11th century AD resulted in profound, long-term change in the precolonial Native world.
Between 2012 and 2018, Pauketat worked with Susan Alt (Indiana University, Bloomington) on an even larger-scale investigation of upland "shrine complexes" due east of Cahokia. Over five intensive field seasons, Alt and Pauketat's teams undercovered evidence of periodic, large-scale religious events at a place dubbed the "Emerald Acropolis." Here, Pauketat verified his claims that Cahokian religion was centered on the long 18.6-year cycle of the Moon, drawing inspiration from colleagues at Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, and the Hopewell sites of central Ohio. Since then, Alt and Pauketat have sought to understand the relationship between religion to politics generally, at sites in Wisconsin, Mississippi, Indiana, and Illinois. Like most pre-modern religions, those of precolonial America were practiced through rituals and events. Pauketat is seeking to understand the larger historical implications of such performed religion. He discusses this and other theories about Cahokia's connections and influence in his Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (2009). In an early review of this work, Pauketat's old mentor, William I. Woods, took issue with Pauketat's suggestion (on page 2) that Cahokia may have been in contact with Mesoamerican civilizations, and to his belief that they have important similarities in mythic images and religious beliefs. Woods notes that James B. Griffin, "the dean of Eastern North American archaeology," repeatedly stated that there was "absolutely no evidence for direct contact between Mesoamerica and Cahokia."C. Wesson says that Pauketat presents this theory but is not committed to proving a connection between Cahokia and ancient Mexico; rather it is one of several alternatives that he explores to provide an overview of the field.
Pauketat's An Archaeology of the Cosmos: Rethinking Agency and Religion in Ancient America was published in 2013. The previous year he also edited the volume, The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology (2012). Since then, several other volumes of his have been published. Most recently, Pauketat has written an extended treatment of the big history of North America that includes the effects of both Medieval climate change and Mesoamerica on the rest of North America. His latest book is Gods of Thunder: How Climate Change, Travel, and Spirituality Reshaped Precolonial North America (2023).
The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city directly across the Mississippi River from present-day St. Louis, Missouri. This historic park lies in south-western Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville. The park covers 2,200 acres (890 ha), or about 3.5 square miles (9 km2), and contains about 80 manmade mounds, but the ancient city was much larger. At its apex around 1100 CE, the city covered about 6 square miles (16 km2) and included about 120 earthworks in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and functions.
The Mississippian culture was a Native American civilization that flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE, varying regionally. It was known for building large, earthen platform mounds, and often other shaped mounds as well. It was composed of a series of urban settlements and satellite villages linked together by loose trading networks. The largest city was Cahokia, believed to be a major religious center located in what is present-day southern Illinois.
Monks Mound is the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas and the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica. The beginning of its construction dates from 900 to 955 CE. Located at the Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site near Collinsville, Illinois, the mound size was calculated in 1988 as about 100 feet (30 m) high, 955 feet (291 m) long including the access ramp at the southern end, and 775 feet (236 m) wide. This makes Monks Mound roughly the same size at its base as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The perimeter of its base is larger than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. As a platform mound, the earthwork supported a wooden structure on the summit.
Southeastern Ceremonial Complex formerly Southern Cult, Southern Death Cult or Buzzard Cult), a.k.a. S.E.C.C., is the name given by modern scholars to the regional stylistic similarity of artifacts, iconography, ceremonies, and mythology of the Mississippian culture. It coincided with their adoption of maize agriculture and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 to 1650 CE.
Chunkey is a game of Native American origin. It was played by rolling disc-shaped stones across the ground and throwing spears at them in an attempt to land the spear as close to the stopped stone as possible. It originated around 600 CE in the Cahokia region of what is now the United States. Chunkey was played in huge arenas as large as 47 acres that housed great audiences designed to bring people of the region together. It continued to be played after the fall of the Mississippian culture around 1500 CE. Variations were played throughout North America. Early ethnographer James Adair translated the name to mean "running hard labor". Gambling was frequently connected with the game, with some players wagering everything they owned on the outcome of the game. Losers were even known to commit suicide.
Spiro Mounds is an archaeological site located in present-day eastern Oklahoma that remains from an indigenous Indian culture that was part of the major northern Caddoan Mississippian culture. The 80-acre site is located within a floodplain on the southern side of the Arkansas River. The modern town of Spiro developed approximately seven miles to the south.
Gregory Herman Perino was an American self-taught professional archaeologist, author, consultant, and the last living founder of the Illinois State Archaeological Society. Perino was considered one of the foremost experts on Native American artifacts. He died July 4, 2005, at the age of 91.
The Caddoan Mississippian culture was a prehistoric Native American culture considered by archaeologists as a variant of the Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Northeast Texas, Southwest Missouri and Northwest Louisiana of the United States.
Long-nosed god maskettes are artifacts made from bone, copper and marine shells associated with the Mississippian culture and found in archaeological sites in the Midwestern United States and the Southeastern United States. They are small shield-shaped faces with squared-off foreheads, circular eyes, and large noses of various lengths. They are often shown on Southeastern Ceremonial Complex representations of falcon impersonators as ear ornaments. Long and short nosed versions of the masks have been found in ten different states, with the majority found at sites in Illinois. Many archaeologists now associate them with the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) stories of the mythological being Red Horn.
Lynne Sullivan is an American archaeologist and former Curator of Archaeology for the Frank H. McClung Museum located on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville, Tennessee. A graduate of the University of Tennessee (undergraduate) and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Sullivan is renowned for her research and publications on subjects such as Southeastern United States prehistory, Mississippian chiefdoms, mortuary analysis, and archaeological curation. She has been a major contributor to the feminist/gender archaeology movement through her studies in social inequality, gender roles, and the historic significance of women in the development of modern archaeology.
Peter N. Peregrine is an American anthropologist, registered professional archaeologist, and academic. He is well known for his promotion of the use of science in anthropology, and for his popular textbook Anthropology. Peregrine did dissertation research on the evolution of the Mississippian culture of North America, and conducted fieldwork on Bronze Age cities in Syria. He is currently Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at Lawrence University and Research Associate of the Human Relations Area Files at Yale University. From 2012 to 2018 he was an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.
Mississippian copper plates, or plaques, are plain and repousséd plates of beaten copper crafted by peoples of the various regional expressions of the Mississippian culture between 800 and 1600 CE. They have been found as artifacts in archaeological sites in the American Midwest and Southeast. The plates, found as far afield as Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, were instrumental in the development of the archaeological concept known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Some of the more notable examples are representations of raptorial birds and avian-themed dancing warriors.
Mound 34 is a small platform mound located roughly 400 metres (1,300 ft) to the east of Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Illinois. Excavations near Mound 34 from 2002 to 2010 revealed the remains of a copper workshop, although the one of a kind discovery had been previously found in the late 1950s by archaeologist Gregory Perino, but lost for 60 years. It is so far the only remains of a copper workshop found at a Mississippian culture archaeological site.
Mound 72 is a small ridgetop mound located roughly 850 meters (2,790 ft) to the south of Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Illinois. Early in the site's history, the location began as a circle of 48 large wooden posts known as a "woodhenge". The woodhenge was later dismantled and a series of mortuary houses, platform mounds, mass burials and eventually the ridgetop mound erected in its place. The mound was the location of the "beaded burial", an elaborate burial of an elite personage thought to have been one of the rulers of Cahokia, accompanied by the graves of several hundred retainers and sacrificial victims.
The Emmons Cemetery Site, also known as the Emmons Site, is a Middle Mississippian culture archaeological site located in Kerton Township, Fulton County, Illinois, on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Illinois River to its east. The location was a used as a cemetery and several unique and rare items were found interred with the burials.
The Emerald Mound and Village Site is a pre-Columbian archaeological site located northwest of the junction of Emerald Mound Grange and Midgley Neiss Roads in St. Clair County, Illinois. The site includes five mounds, two of which have been destroyed by modern activity, and the remains of a village. Middle Mississippian peoples inhabited the village, which was a satellite village of Cahokia. The largest of the mounds is a two-tiered structure that stands 50 feet (15 m) high; its square base is 300 feet (91 m) across, while its upper tier is 150 feet (46 m) across. At the time of its discovery, the mound was the second-largest known in Illinois after Monks Mound at Cahokia.
The Carson Mounds,, also known as the Carson Site and Carson-Montgomery- is a large Mississippian culture archaeological site located near Clarksdale in Coahoma County, Mississippi in the Yazoo Basin. Only a few large earthen mounds are still present at Carson to this day. Archaeologists have suggested that Carson is one of the more important archaeological sites in the state of Mississippi.
The Fisher Mound Group is a group of burial mounds with an associated village site located on the DesPlaines River near its convergence with the Kankakee River where they combine to form the Illinois River, in Will County, Illinois, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. It is a multi-component stratified site representing several Prehistoric Upper Mississippian occupations as well as minor Late Woodland and Early Historic components.
The Lamb Site (11SC24) is an archeological site located in the central Illinois River Valley (CIRV). Excavations of this site began in the 1990s to attempt to understand the Mississippinization of the area following several generations after the intervention of the Cahokians before Columbus's discovery of America. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D., changes amongst the Native American groups in the Midwest erupted in an attempt to conform to the growing Mississippian lifestyle. These changes were apparent in their cosmology practices and in their maintenance of social, political and economic systems.
Pauketat, Timothy R. and Alt, Susan M.