As a corn-based economy grew in the fertile Mississippi Valley, providing a reliable food source all year, populations rose and villages grew. About 1000 A.D., Cahokia underwent a population explosion. Along with corn, Cahokians cultivated goosefoot, amaranth, canary grass and other starchy seeds.
Mississippian people were horticulturalists. They grew much of their food in small gardens using simple tools like stone axes, digging sticks, and fire. Corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, goosefoot, sumpweed, and other plants were cultivated.
Now an archaeologist has likely ruled out one hypothesis for Cahokia’s demise: that flooding caused by the overharvesting of timber made the area increasingly uninhabitable. “Cahokia was the most densely populated area in North America prior to European contact,” she says.
The Cahokia were an Algonquian-speaking Native American tribe and member of the Illinois Confederation; their territory was in what is now the Midwest of the United States in North America.
Covering more than 2,000 acres, Cahokia is the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico. Best known for large, man-made earthen structures, the city of Cahokia was inhabited from about A.D. 700 to 1400. Agricultural fields and a number of smaller villages surrounded and supplied the city.
Mississippians depended on corn for food, and they cleared and planted fields near their towns and villages. The amount of cultivated plant food in the Mississippian diet distinguishes it from the typical Woodland period diet.
Although hunting and gathering plants for food was still important, the Mississippians were mainly farmers. They grew corn, beans, and squash, called the “three sisters” by historic Southeastern Indians. The “sisters” provided a stable and balanced diet, making a larger population possible.
Founded in 1699 by Quebec missionaries and named for a tribe of Illinois Indians (Cahokia, meaning “ Wild Geese” ), it was the first permanent European settlement in Illinois and became a centre of French influence in the upper Mississippi River valley.
In its prime, about four centuries before Columbus stumbled on to the western hemisphere, Cahokia was a prosperous pre-American city with a population similar to London’s. Located in southern Illinois, eight miles from present-day St Louis, it was probably the largest North American city north of Mexico at that time.
Cahokia was a part of a cultural complex which archaeologists call Mississippian. There are three outstanding characteristics of Mississippian material culture: tempered clay pottery, square houses, and pyramidal mounds.
French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet missed the mounds in 1673 and reported finding no Indians in the area. French monks found Cahokia’s mounds in the mid-1700s and later named the biggest one after themselves. But mystery still shrouded the site.
Cahokia was first occupied in ad 700 and flourished for approximately four centuries (c. 950–1350). It reached a peak population of as many as 20,000 individuals and was the most extensive urban centre in prehistoric America north of Mexico and the primary centre of the Middle Mississippian culture.
The Cahokia were members of the Illinois, a group of approximately twelve Algonquian-speaking tribes who occupied areas of present Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas.
The name “Cahokia” is from an aboriginal people who lived in the area during the 17th century. Cultural finds from the city include evidence of a popular game called “Chunkey” and a caffeine loaded drink. The city fell into decline after 1200, around the time that a flood occurred, becoming abandoned by 1400.
Then, Climate Change Destroyed It: The Salt The Mississippian American Indian culture rose to power after A.D. 900 by farming corn.
The Cahokia Mounds were discovered by French explorers in the 1600s. At the time they were inhabited by the Cahokia people, hence the mounds received their name. Since then the mounds have been frequently excavated. Excavations in the last decade have shown the site to have had a copper workshop.