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Timothy Pauketat

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Timothy Pauketat


Timothy Pauketat httpssarweborgmediaimagesresidentscholart

Cahokia: Ancient America's, Chiefdoms and Other Archaeol, Ancient Cahokia and the M, An Archaeology of the Co, The ascent of chiefs

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Dr. Timothy R. Pauketat is an American archaeologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He is best known for his investigations at Cahokia, the major center of ancient Mississippian culture in the American Bottom area of Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri.


Timothy Pauketat httpswwwarchaeologicalorgsitesdefaultfiles

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Early life and education

Pauketat attended Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, graduating in 1983 with a B.S. in Anthropology and Earth Sciences. During college he worked as an intern with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He next worked as a staff archaeologist with The Center for American Archaeology, a cultural resource management firm based at Kampsville, Illinois, and as an assistant curator and research assistant for SIU-Carbondale from 1983-1984.

He earned an M.A. in Anthropology at SIU in 1986. After working for the Illinois State Museum and Michigan’s museum of anthropology from 1984-88, Pauketat earned his PhD in Anthropology in 1991 from the University of Michigan.

Academic career

Pauketat did post-doctoral work at the University of Illinois as a visiting researcher, and in 1992 started as an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. During this period, he published 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.

In 1998 Pauketat started as an associate professor 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. He regularly teaches classes such as “Introductory World Archaeology” and “Archaeological Theory". He also frequently leads the annual University of Illinois archaeological field school.


Dr. Pauketat has concentrated research on Cahokia, the center of the large, regional Mississippian culture that extended throughout the Mississippi Valley and tributaries. He has excavated at its grand plaza and the surrounding 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 trading and political connections to the greater Mississippian world. He terms this spread of Cahokian material culture as pax Cahokiana, due to its far-reaching and distinct influence. Justin Jennings has acknowledged Pauketat's leadership in this field, but he believes that Cahokia's influence was less the result of directed action by the elite than a messy process of a series of actions taken by other communities and taking advantage of opportunities related to Cahokia's rise and fall, a kind of globalization in central North America among the cultures of its time.

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 the civilization. He has studied beyond his specialty area to find the unique factors that contribute to his "historical processual" analysis. Reexamination of data and artifacts to discover new or previously ignored information is another highlight of Pauketat’s work. Studies such as commoner-elite relations provide more insight into all aspects of the Mississippian complex. In “Resettled Farmers and the Making of a Mississippian Polity”, he discusses the relocation of agricultural villagers in the American Bottom near the time of Cahokia’s emergence.

According to his reconstruction, around A.D. 1050 pre-Cahokia settlements had been 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 series of farmsteads was developed upland from Cahokia proper, and are known as the Richland complex. Their walls were set into trenches, but some post-wall and hybrid-wall forms are present. This may indicate cultural resistance, especially as the hybrid and traditional forms were located farther away from Cahokia proper. 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 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.

Cultural Resource Management

Due to the nature of American archaeology, Pauketat has also participated in “salvage” or cultural resource management. This archaeology removes and documents cultural material before modern development destroys it. Though often much more limited in scope and time than academic archaeology, Pauketat's book, The Ascent of Chiefs..., details the artifacts in part “salvaged” from the construction of a highway that bisects Cahokia. Dividing up the artifacts by radiometrically dated and ceramic-seriated phases, he notes an increasing number of foreign goods as time progresses in the Emergent Mississippian phases. He has interpreted this growth as an enlargement of high-ranking peoples able to secure such networks necessary to move such goods as Gulf Coast shell from distant locations

Theoretical Foundations

In an interview with Peter Shea in 2013, Pauketat characterizes his work as being about objects and their connections to families. He insists on the importance of research into the materials of the past. While respectful of the work of historians, he asserts that the written record misses important aspects of the past. He says that individuals can't simply read about the past, but need to explore its materiality. He describes his approach to the past as being "object heavy."


Pauketat champions practice-based, agency-focused, and phenomenological theories in archaeology, initiated as part of the post-processual movement in the 1980s and 1990s. These newer theories are the basis of 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. Past life ways are more completely described when viewed in their historical context. Though the imperfect nature of the archaeological record prevents a full historical account of ancient times, he posits the evidence available to Mississippian archaeologists should prevent minimalist interpretations. He argues that Cahokia can not simply be labeled a “chiefdom.” He believes that such a classification limits exploration of the multitudes of processes that were underway and the extent of archaeological interpretation. He believes that the rise and fall of Cahokia has to be studied as a unique complex of events.

Practice Theory

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 states 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.

Pauketat uses 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.

Recent work

Recently, Pauketat has been working with Danielle Benden (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Robert Boszhardt (independent) as part of "The Mississippian Initiative" (funded by the National Science Foundation). They are working in western Wisconsin to study sites such as Trempealeau, which they believe may have been a short-term Cahokian mission or colony. They believe that the effects of Cahokians colonizing the ancient north country resulted in profound, long-term change in the regional ancient American Indian world. According to Jennings, "the nature and degree of Cahokia-driven colonization remains controversial."

These researchers are also seeking to ascertain the relationship of religion to ancient politics more generally, at sites in both Wisconsin and the Cahokia area. Like most pre-modern religions, those of pre-Columbian America had elements that were practiced through rituals and events. Pauketat is seeking to understand the larger historical implications of such performed religion. He discusses this and othe theories about Cahokia's connections and influence in his Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi (2009). In a review of this work, 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," has repeatedly stated his conclusion that there is "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 2012. That year he also edited the volume, The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology (2012).

Selected works

  • (2012) Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology., ed. by Timothy Pauketat, Oxford University Press
  • (2009) Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi. Viking Adult.
  • (2007) Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions. Alta Mira Press.
  • (2004) Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians. Cambridge University Press.
  • (2001) “Practice and History in Archaeology: an Emerging Paradigm,” Anthropological Theory Vol. 1, No. 73
  • (1998) “Refiguring the Archaeology of Greater Cahokia,” Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 6 No. 1
  • Pauketat, Timothy R. and Alt, Susan M.

  • (1994) The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America, University of Alabama Press.
  • (2005) “Agency in a Postmold? Physicality and the Archaeology of Culture-Making,” in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. 12 No. 3
  • References

    Timothy Pauketat Wikipedia