Timothy Pauketat

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

Academic career[edit]

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, Illinois 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[1] after publishing numerous professional papers, book chapters, two more books and earning a Distinguished Service award from his department.[2] He regularly teaches classes such as “Introductory World Archaeology” and “Archaeological Theory".[1] He also frequently leads the annual University of Illinois archaeological field school [3]



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 the platform mounds surrounding the site[4] He has also worked at outlying sites such as Halliday, Pfeffer, and Emerald in the uplands of the Mississippi valley.[5] He views Cahokia as a major player in the Mississippian world.[6] The finding of similar mundane and ritual implements such as pottery, chunkey stones and Mississippian stone statuary in locations as far afield as sites like Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma, and the presence of resources from distant locales such as the Gulf of Mexico show the extent of Cahokia's connection to the greater Mississippian world. He terms this spread of Cahokian material culture pax Cahokiana due to its far-reaching and sudden impact.[7]

Pauketat does not view Cahokia developing or existing in a vacuum, utilizing contemporaneous archaeological sites to obtain a large-scale picture of the Mississippian world. 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 contribute to his "historical processual" analysis. Reexamination to discover new or previously 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.[5]

According to his reconstruction, around A.D. 1050 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 walls were set into trenches, but some post-wall and hybrid-wall forms are present, indicating perhaps some cultural resistance especially given that the hybrid and traditional forms were located farther 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 fewer finely crafted items or ritual objects and a high percentage of workshop debris, likely indicating their purpose as support communities for the Cahokian elite. His notion of a transplanted farmer 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.[5]

Pauketat questions established knowledge about ancient North America. 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 other Mississippians 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 found outside of Cahokia. 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.[8]

Cultural Resource Management[edit]

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 [9]

Theoretical Foundations[edit]

In an interview with Peter Shea in 2013, Pauketet characterizes his work as being about objects and their connections to families. He insists on the importance of a material interaction with the past. While respectful of the work of historians, he asserts that the written record misses important aspects of the past—he asserts that one can't simply read about the past, that one needs to experience its materiality. He describes his approach to the past as being "object heavy." [10]


Pauketat champions practice-based, agency-focused, and phenomenological theories in archaeology, initiated as part of the post-processual movement in the 1980s and 1990s. These newer theories are the basis of his 2007 book, Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions.[4] Post-processual theory was a critique of processual archaeology sometimes lumped by critics with postmodernism. Today, the distinction is disappearing, as all archaeologists use the scientific method for basic inference construction and, increasingly, theories of identity, landscape phenomenology, and agency move to center stage in explanations of the past.[11]

Pauketat advocates a more historical approach to theory. Past life ways are more completely described when viewed in their historical context.[12] 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.[4]

Practice Theory[edit]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[12]

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 artifact is not found outside this region until the height of Cahokia about 400 years later. The sudden popularity and proliferation of the game 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.[7]

Future Prospects[edit]

Recently, Pauketat has been working with Danielle Benden (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Robert Boszhardt (independent) as part of "The Mississippian Initiative" (funded by the National Science Foundation). Their work takes place in western Wisconsin at sites such as Trempealeau, where they now argue for the existence of a short-term Cahokian mission or colony. Presumably, the effects of Cahokians missionizing the ancient north country led to profound long-term change in the ancient American Indian world. Their work in Wisconsin, and future work at and around Cahokia, will attempt to ascertain the relationship of religion to ancient politics more generally. Like most pre-modern religions, those of pre-Columbian America were not simply believed in the minds of people, but were performed, and Pauketat is looking to understand the larger historical implications of this kind of religion. Some of this is reviewed in his 2009 book with Viking-Penguin Press, "Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi." More of it is part of his soon-to-be completed "An Archaeology of the Cosmos: Rethinking Agency and Religion in Ancient America." He has also published an edited volume entitled "The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology" (2012).


  1. ^ a b http://www.anthro.uiuc.edu/faculty/pauketat/pauketatCV.doc
  2. ^ Timothy Pauketat, Anthropology, U of I
  3. ^ Field School in Archaeology, Anthropology, U of I
  4. ^ a b c Pauketat, Timothy R. (2007) Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions Alta Mira Press
  5. ^ a b c Pauketat, Timothy R. (2003) “Resettled Farmers and the Making of a Mississippian Polity” American Antiquity Vol. 68 No. 1
  6. ^ Pauketat, Timothy R. (1994) The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America University of Alabama Press
  7. ^ a b Pauketat, Timothy R. (2005) “The History of the Mississippians” in North American Archaeology Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  8. ^ -Pauketat, Timothy R. (1998) “Refiguring the Archaeology of Greater Cahokia” Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 6 No. 1
  9. ^ Pauketat, Timothy R. (1994) The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America University of Alabama Press.
  10. ^ http://ias.umn.edu/2013/05/01/pauketat/
  11. ^ Trigger, Bruce G. (2003) “Neoevolutionism and the New Archaeology” in A History of Archaeological Thought Cambridge University Press. 12th Printing
  12. ^ a b c Pauketat, Timothy R. (2001a) “Practice and History in Archaeology: an Emerging Paradigm” Anthropological Theory Vol. 1, No. 73
  13. ^ Pauketat, Timothy R. (2001) “A New Tradition in Archaeology” in The Archaeology of Traditions ed. Pauketat, Timothy R. University Press of Florida

Selected works[edit]

Pauketat, Timothy R.

  • (2012) Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology. Oxford University Press
  • (2009) Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi. Viking Adult.
  • (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[edit]