With National Science Foundation support Dr. Melvin Fowler will conduct one field season of archaeological field research at the site of Cahokia. In recent decades Cahokia has been recognized as the premier archaeological manifestation of pre-Columbian American Indian culture north of Mexico. No other archaeological zone within the present United States was as geographically large, the seat of as large a population, or has as many manmade features as does the Cahokia site. While total agreement has not been achieved, a consensus is growing that Cahokia can best be described as a complex chiefdom. Recent studies have shown that its origin can be dated to approximately 1,000 A.D. or slightly earlier. Cahokia is known for its large impressive earthern mounds which include elaborate burials as well as many smaller mound features. Due in good part to Dr. Fowler's work archaeologists have come to realize that many of the smaller features contained very large wooden posts and they have found both the now empty postholes and remains of earthern ramps used to raise the posts into the ground. It also appears that these posts were arranged in large circles to form `woodhenges`, analogous in some ways to stonehenges in Europe. Through plots of post positions, it is very likely they served astronomical functions. The goal of Dr. Fowler's work is to further test this hypothesis. He has located small unexcavated features and predicted, on the basis of the astronomic hypothesis where postholes and ramps should be located. Through careful stratigraphic excavation he will search for them. The underlying issue which Dr. Fowler and many other archaeologists wish to address concerns how preliterate societies with simple levels of technology were able to organize and maintain large scale social units such as the one represented at Cahokia. Many believe that stonehenges and similar structures served to establish and a cosmological order, the purpose of which was to reflect and reinforce a set of social and status organizations. For example one wishes to know where elite structures were located in relation to significant astronomical points on the woodhenge. This research is important because it will provide data of interest to many archaeologists. It will shed new light on one of the premier archaeological sites in the United States and will increase our understanding of underlying principles of social organization.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
United States
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