When the Rains Stop: Climate Change and Cahokia’s Water Shrines
Water remains the single-most fundamental factor in the rise and fall of cities and civilizations. To understand how, and to rethink the implications of climate change today, I consider water not as a resource but as an immanent, underlying dimension of social life on which the very existence of people, places, and things depends. The story of ancient Cahokia—American Indian city on the Mississippi—hinges on water so conceived in near-religious terms. The archaeology of maize, Maya water cults, religious events, and the Medieval Climatic Anomaly are combined in this presentation to challenge our understanding of human and other-than-human agency in this singular city’s rapid construction and deconstruction between the 11th and 13th centuries CE. There are implications both for a new, “big history” of Precolumbian North America and our future world.