Native Americans travelled far and wide to settle in America’s first city

Native Americans travelled far and wide to settle in America’s first city

The ancient American city of Cahokia, which by 1100 AD was bigger than medieval London, was home to around 20,000 people – many of whom travelled hundreds of miles to live there.

The site, which covered almost 6 square miles, was situated directly across the Mississippi River from the modern city of St. Louis and was the centre of the Native American Mississippian culture.  Cahokia’s numerous temple and residential earthwork mounds, along with hundreds of thatched covered houses, were active from around 900 to 1500 AD.  At its height, its ancient population would not be surpassed by any city in the United States until the late 18th century.

A new study of dozens of teeth found at the site has revealed that people moved to the ancient metropolis from across the Midwest and perhaps as far away as the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast regions.

Philip Slater of the University of Illinois and Thomas Emerson of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey conducted strontium isotope analysis on 133 teeth from 87 individuals buried at different times across Cahokia.  Each location has its own strontium isotopic signature and the isotope ratios found in tooth enamel can reveal where a person was born or grew up.  The study showed that one-third of the Cahokia sample were from elsewhere.

Slater and Emerson also analysed teeth from a burial pit containing the remains of dozens of young women.  It had been thought the girls had been brought in to Cahokia to be offered as human sacrifices, but 15 of 17 individuals whose teeth were examined were native to the city.

Emerson said:  “The burning question now is where do all these people come from?  In order to answer that question we need to expand our studies of strontium across the midcontinental United States.”

Cahokia - image by Michael Hampshire
Cahokia – image by Michael Hampshire

Source: Live Science

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