Cahokia’s dramatic mid-11th century CE construction as a monumental capital, built by a diverse, rapidly urbanizing population of immigrants and locals, is a model for the rise of early civilizations everywhere. This is especially true because the precise causal connections between immigrant farmers, climate change, and religion can be understood thanks to eight highly productive salvage-archaeological field excavations at four sites east of the American Indian city of Cahokia. Each field season was conducted under emergency salvage conditions in a part of the greater St. Louis region witnessing rapid 20th-century development and each saw large-scale excavations at four sites dating to 1050-1100 CE, Cahokia’s critical founding phase that witnessed dramatic, urbanizing change.

Understanding the fundamental relationships between cultural diversity, agriculture, climate, religion and social history is being realized by correlating multiple lines of domestic, culinary, and ritual evidence associated with the remains of hundreds of pole-and-thatch buildings and other discrete deposits excavated at the four sites under salvage conditions in the 1990s and 2000s. The people at each site ran the gamut from local to immigrant and farmer to administrator. The question that the Richland Analysis Project seeks to answer is this: how did producers from diverse social and cultural backgrounds underwrite civilization? Understanding how, especially the extent to which people’s choices and relationships to ecological, political, ancestral, and other elemental powers are filtered by their worldviews, has a direct bearing on questions of global sustainability into our collective future. By isolating the region’s discrete subpopulations and tracking their activities around 1050 CE, we are generating the needed historically detailed understanding of how new agrarian relationships linked farming and farmers with other forces of the world in ways that underwrote Cahokia’s urbanism.

The Richland Analysis Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.