Friday, September 23, 2016

From Clay and Earth Experiencing the Emerald Site Beyond Cahokia the Emerald Site casts new light on Mississippian life.

The Chicago Archaeological Society will initiate the 2016-17 discovery program of archaeological adventures with an exploration of the Illinois Emerald Site escorted by Rebecca M. Barzilai, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University. Ms. Barzlai is working on her dissertation characterizing the geochemical and petrographic composition of ceramics from the Emerald Site.

Since 2012 a joint effort by Indiana University and the University of Illinois, led by project co-directors Susan Alt and Tim Pauketat [CAS Speaker April 11, 2011) with funding from the John Templeton Foundation, has conducted large scale excavations across the Emerald Site. Emerald, located 10 miles east of Cahokia in St. Clair County, Illinois prospered from the 11th to the 14th century AD.

Archaeological exploration has uncovered concentrations ofnon-domestic, ceremonial architecturealongside seeminglytemporary, short-term pilgrimhousing. Small sites surroundingthe main acropolis of ritualactivity appear to be temporary field houses where peoplemoved through, to and from Emerald, but did not live yearround. Pottery, a good distinguisher of changing cultural styles and practices, shows evidenceof people from Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Southeastern Missouri, and perhaps further afield as well as the way pottery changed slightly once these travelers had experienced Emerald.

In North America, where houses were made mostly from wood, thatch, and mud, an archaeologist’s main medium of investigation is the earth. Looking at the footprint of patterns left behind by native inhabitants, such as earth, raw
clay, pottery, and stone are our clues to what people were doing and seeing in the past. At the Emerald Site the pattern left behind leads to indications of people visiting the location from across the Midwest for religious purposes. The location was built up and used as a Mississippian shrine complex, where religious practices and activities were performed and created by Cahokian and migrant peoples from throughout the Midwest of North America.

Emerald sits on a glacial driftremnant on the western edge of the historically named ‘Looking Glass Prairie.’ Emerald is an unusual site that, in addition to an earthen pyramid, almost 20 feet high, known as the “Great Mound,” there are 11 small once flat-topped round mounds, all aligned atop an apparent artificially landscaped ridge. As this area of the site has proportionally more public and ceremonial architecture than every-day houses, the site has been recently called the Emerald Acropolis, or Emerald Shrine Complex of Greater Cahokia. There is evidence of ceremonially laden ritual deposits that bear witness to annual renewal events which suggest Cahokian practices.

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