Burial Mound 72 is called the “beaded burial” because two of the bodies at the center of the grave contained two bodies on a bed of luxurious beads, but it was previously thought to contain the bodies of six highly important men. A new study concludes that some of the 12—not six—high-status skeletons include women and one child. Buried at the very center of this central beaded burial feature is the couple—that is, a man and woman. The burial mound was used from about 1000 to 1200 AD.
“The fact that these high-status burials included women changes the meaning of the beaded burial feature,” archaeologist Thomas Emerson of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey said. “Now, we realize, we don’t have a system in which males are these dominant figures and females are playing bit parts. And so, what we have at Cahokia is very much a nobility. It’s not a male nobility. It’s males and females, and their relationships are very important.”
Inside the burial mound, rediscovered in 1967 by archaeologist Melvin Fowler, were five mass graves with between 20 to more than 50 bodies. Many of them were sacrificed.
|This graphic shows the arrangement of the beaded burial, which had a man and woman, not just two men as was previously believed.|
Recent research says that Fowler and other researchers erroneously concluded the beaded burial was of two high-status men who were buried with their servants. They thought the beaded cape or blanket was in the shape of a bird, which are symbolic to warrior societies and mythology in the Indian culture. So Fowler concluded that the beaded burial was of two male warrior chiefs. Researchers extrapolated these conclusions to surmise that Cahokia had a “male-dominated hierarchy.”
A fresh look at the early archaeologists’ maps, notes and reports, and the skeletal remains told a new and surprising story. First, the researchers found that there were 12 bodies associated with the beaded burial – not six, as had been previously reported. And independent skeletal analyses revealed that the two central bodies in the beaded burial were actually male and female. Further analyses revealed other male-female pairs on top of, and near, the beaded area. Some were laid out as fully articulated bodies. Others were disarticulated bodies, the bones of which had been gathered and bundled for burial near these important couples. The researchers also discovered the remains of a child.
|Mound 72 at Cahokia held several mass graves but also burials of high-status individuals, some of which included items like these artifacts. Pictured here are chunky stones likely used in games, Cahokia-style tri-notched projectile points, and marine shell disc beads like those used in the beaded burial at Cahokia.|
Strontium is absorbed into the human body from the underlying bedrock through the consumption of local animals and plants. Since the levels of strontium vary across the midcontinent depending on the local geology the level of strontium absorbed by individuals also varies. Investigations of the strontium levels of the remains of individuals who died at Cahokia between 900 AD and 1350 AD indicate that fully one-third of these people were foreigners from outside the immediate vicinity of Cahokia. This suggests that Cahokia could not rely on traditional kin-based political and social models but likely had to “invent” new ways of social and political control and population management.
Mound 72 had groups of people, some of the victims of sacrifice, buried in large pits. Many were laid out in neat rows and had little sign of trauma. Researchers speculate they died of strangulation or blood-letting.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.