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Talk: “The Religious Provocations of a Native American Civilization: Evidence from the Emerald Shrine Center” by Susan M. Alt

Part of the Archaeological Institute of America Lecture Series

Although Cahokia, North America’s First Native American city, is one of our better understood ancient societies, new studies are changing what we thought we knew about it. Dr. Susan M. Alt's research team has spent the last five years excavating at the Emerald site of Lebanon Illinois, and the team has learned that Emerald was in fact a Cahokian shrine center. It was a place that religious pilgrims passed through on their way to Cahokia, and a place where religious specialists terraformed an upland ridge, arranged monuments and buildings in alignments with lunar cycles and engaged in rituals and ceremonies that linked the old ways to the newly developing Mississippian ways of being. Most importantly, Emerald was built and attracting visitors before Cahokia became a great center. The events, that Dr. Alt will be describing at Emerald, suggest that Cahokia’s very origins were likely linked to a religious movement. What Dr. Alt suggests, given the Emerald evidence, is that religion came first and that religious underpinnings can best help explain the Mississippian changes that came with the development of Cahokia as a city. The details of the use of the Emerald shrines, the importance of fire, water, and female bodies in creating what became a new Mississippian civilization are best appreciated when we remember that for the Cahokians, not only humans were persons. That is to say, the founders of Cahokia were the Mississippian people themselves, but also the invisible persons, forces and spirits that they interacted with at places like Emerald.

This talk is organized by the Central Illinois Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and hosted by the Spurlock Museum.

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