Skip to content

Department of Anthropology Speaker Series presents: Timothy Pauketat

The Dr. Paul and Natalie Strasser Legacy Room - 220 Eggers Hall

Add to: Outlook, ICal, Google Calendar

"Dragons and Affects in the Ancient City: Lessons from Cahokia and the Emerald Acropolis"

The qualities and historical implications of urbanism in the past greatly exceed the standard population-agriculture models through which we still learn to imagine our urban futures. But the first cities did not emerge simply because unchecked human population growth enabled by agriculture led to ever-larger aggregations of people. Many cities were reputedly founded by or for the gods and henceforth revealed the cosmic order to their inhabitants through the affective qualities of spaces, materials, and other-than-human inhabitants. Those affective qualities, qua cities, fundamentally altered human history. Even today, they afford a palpable cultural energy that defines humanity. Cities are their own ontologies both today and in ancient times.

I outline the contours of an argument that seeks answers to proximate questions—how?—beginning with ongoing intensive studies of the qualities and associations of temples, posts, offerings, and monuments at the city of Cahokia and its principal shrine complex, the Emerald Acropolis. Built on the Mississippi River in 1050 CE, Cahokia was probably intentionally sited in a watery marshland inhabited by ancestral spirits and fundamental life forces. Next, I turn to other instances of ancient urbanism in Asia and the Americas and reconnect with the conclusions of 19th century historian Fustel de Coulanges, who believed that the foundation of the ancient city “was always a religious act.” As it happens, some of the earliest cities arose out of waters, jungles, and desert oases inhabited by other-than-human spirits. Rethinking ancient urbanism in this vein enables us to analyze relationships between people and elemental forces that are key to a more sustainable urbanism in the future

Open to




Contact to request accommodations