Some archaeologists might pussyfoot around this question more than Pauketat does, but it also seems clear that political and religious power in Cahokia revolved around another ancient tradition. Cahokians performed human sacrifice, as part of some kind of theatrical, community-wide ceremony, on a startlingly large scale unknown in North America above the valley of Mexico. Simultaneous burials of as many as 53 young women (quite possibly selected for their beauty) have been uncovered beneath Cahokia's mounds, and in some cases victims were evidently clubbed to death on the edge of a burial pit, and then fell into it. A few of them weren't dead yet when they went into the pit -- skeletons have been found with their phalanges, or finger bones, digging into the layer of sand beneath them.These women, Pauketat hypothesizes, came from mostly-female agrarian villages surrounding Cahokia. (Which raises even more questions, most notably, Where did all the men go?)
The garbage dump reveals the remains of enormous Cahokian festivals, involving as many as 3,900 slaughtered deer, 7,900 earthenware pots, and vast amounts of pumpkins, corn, porridge, nuts and berries. There was enough food to feed all of Cahokia at once, and enough potent native tobacco -- a million charred seeds at a time -- to give the whole city a near-hallucinogenic nicotine buzz.All this, Pauketat thinks, was the detritus of an enormous festival to honor the royal family or celebrate the coronation of a new king. It's unclear whether the sacrificial virgins played any part in these celebrations, but Pauketat writes that they were at least part of the same "social system."
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