Timothy Pauketat

Timothy Pauketat

Dr. Timothy R. Pauketat is an “American Bottom” Mississippian-era archaeologist and professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He is most famous for his investigations at and involving the World Heritage site of Cahokia Mounds near St. Louis, MO.

Academic career

Pauketat began his career gaining formal experience as an intern with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while attending Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville as an undergraduate from 1980-1983. After graduating from SIU with B.S. in Anthropology and Earth Sciences, he gained further field experience as a staff archaeologist with a cultural resource management firm, The Center for American Archaeology, at Kampsville, IL and as an assistant curator and research assistant for SIU-Carbondale from 1983-1984. He continued his higher education at SIU, earning a M.A. in Anthropology in 1986. After working for the Illinois State Museum and Michigan’s museum of anthropology from 1984-88 he attained his PhD in Anthropology in 1991 from the University of Michigan. After his post-doctoral work with the University of Illinois as a visiting researcher, he was hired as an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma at Norman in 1992. During his tenure there he published his first single-authored book "The Ascent of Chiefs:: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America." In 1996 was hired as an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. In 1998 he became an associate professor at the University of Illinois, eventually becoming a full professor in 2005 http://www.anthro.uiuc.edu/faculty/pauketat/pauketatCV.doc] after publishing numerous professional papers, book chapters, two more books and earning a Distinguished Service award from his department [http://www.anthro.uiuc.edu/faculty/pauketat/ Timothy Pauketat, Anthropology, U of I ] ] . He regularly teaches classes such as “Introductory World Archaeology” and “Archaeological Theory". He also frequently leads the annual University of Illinois archaeological field school [http://www.anthro.uiuc.edu/fieldschool/ Field School in Archaeology, Anthropology, U of I ] ]



Throughout the entirety of his career, Dr. Pauketat has focused on a substantial Mississippian culture center: Cahokia. He has excavated at its grand plaza and earthen mounds surrounding the site Pauketat, Timothy R. (2007) "Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions"] Alta Mira Press. but also at outlying sites such as Grossman in the uplands of the Mississippian valley Pauketat, Timothy R. (2003) “Resettled Farmers and the Making of a Mississippian Polity” American Antiquity Vol. 68 No. 1 ] . He views Cahokia as a major player in the Mississippian world [Pauketat, Timothy R. (1994) "The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America" University of Alabama Press] . Similar mundane and ritual implements are located far afield at sites like Spiro Mounds in eastern Oklahoma and its resources came from distant locales such as the Gulf of Mexico. He terms this spread of Cahokian material culture "pax Cahokiana" due to its far-reaching and sudden impact. Pauketat, Timothy R. (2005) “The History of the Mississippians” in "North American Archaeology" Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ]

Pauketat does not view Cahokia developing or existing in a vacuum, utilizing contemporaneous archaeological sites to obtain a large-scale picture of the Mississippian complex. He is interested in investigating large-scale questions such as the emergence of the civilization, even going outside of his specialty area to find the unique factors that contributed to it Revisionist” analysis, or reexamination to discover new and oft ignored information, is another highlight of Dr. 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 1050 A.D. 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 upland from Cahokia proper, the Richland complex, came into existence. Their sides were primarily wall-trenched, but some post-walled and hybrid forms are present, indicating perhaps some cultural resistance especially given that the hybrid and traditional forms were located further away from Cahokia proper. The number of documented Richland complex farmsteads is estimated to house thousands of individuals, 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 between 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 also have less prestige goods and a high percentage of workshop debris, likely indicating their purpose as lower-class craftsman as organized by the Cahokian elite. His notion of a transplanted worker population is further bolstered 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 Cahokia. For instance, on the basis of his work we now know that Cahokia rose and fell over a much shorter time period, around three hundred years, than had been previously attributed due to improvements in radiometric dating and new methodologies such as identification of domestic remains. Another reexamined facet of the archaeological understandings of Cahokia is the ubiquity of Cahokian-derived goods across much of then contemporaneous Midwest and Mid-South U.S. While this distribution was most certainly due to an exchange network, Pauketat posits relations between Cahokians and their trading partners as not being purely environmentally determined following previous interpretations. Rather, the motivation is political given that evidence of their natural environment forcing Cahokians to trade to survive is lacking. Cahokia may have been attempting to bring outsiders within their sphere of influence, evidenced in the sudden large amount of Cahokian material culture. This incorporative effect most likely happened at a more local scale where the sudden appearance and proliferation of Cahokian artifact forms such as is coupled with housing reorganization of peoples and the incorporation of greater Cahokia. [-Pauketat, Timothy R. (1998) “Refiguring the Archaeology of Greater Cahokia” Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 6 No. 1]

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 [ Pauketat, Timothy R. (1994) "The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America" University of Alabama Press.]

Theoretical Foundations


Pauketat champions post-processual archaeological theory, exemplified in the title of his 2007 book, Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions . Post-processual theory is a postmodern critique of processual archaeology. Processualists obtain an objective description of archaeological data (and subsequently, the past) through thorough application of empiricism within theoretical foundations such as cultural evolution. For instance, technological diversity indicates the complexity of an archaeological culture and thus its location in an established ranking of complexity (e.g., band-tribe-chiefdom-state) Post-processualists question the objectivity of the scientific method and opt for a humanistic approach exploring topics such as agency and ethnicity [Trigger, Bruce G. (2003) “Neoevolutionism and the New Archaeology” in A "History of Archaeological Thought" Cambridge University Press. 12th Printing] .

Pauketat advocates a more historical approach to theory. Past life ways are more completely described when viewed in their historical context Pauketat, Timothy R. (2001a) “Practice and History in Archaeology: an Emerging Paradigm”Anthropological Theory Vol. 1, No. 73] 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.” Such a label undermines the multitudes of processes in occurrence and limits the extent of archaeological interpretation. The rise and fall of Cahokia is such a unique event that examining how it fits within an evolutionary model downplays its significance

Practice Theory

Another component of his theoretical viewpoint is practice theory. Understanding changes in practice, or essentially 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 [Pauketat, Timothy R. (2001) “A New Tradition in Archaeology” in "The Archaeology of Traditions" ed. Pauketat, Timothy R. University Press of Florida] . 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 utilizes practice theory to interpret the proliferation of the chunkey stone. Pre-Cahokian American Bottom dwellers had an early form of this round disc with two concave sides as early as 600 AD. This stone was not found outside this region until the height of Cahokia about 400 years later, The sudden popularity and proliferation of the across the Mid-South and Southeast U.S. at this time suggests mass organization of the game played with it. The massive plazas at Cahokia would have been an ideal setting, and large enough to accommodate all parts of Cahokian society. Thus, the organizers of the games, likely the Cahokian elite, could bring together all levels of society utilizing an old tradition. This tradition retained its prestige even until the 19th century, when it was ethnographically documented to be a competition for the losing side’s worldly possessions

Future Prospects

Pauketat will begin excavation of the “Pfeffer” site in the uplands east of Cahokia during the 2007 University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana field school season. He will attempt to ascertain what relationship the “religious-administrative facilities” had with nearby Cahokia and the surrounding rural populations . His fourth book, "Cahokia’s Big Bang and the Story of Ancient North America", is at press and is expected in 2008


elected works

Pauketat, Timothy R.

-(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

External links

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site:


Dr. Pauketat’s Faculty Web Page


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