Cultural collapse in Eastern North America

This is a continuation of my March 3rd post about the two comets that altered North America by Richard Thornton…

The decline of the Hopewell Culture in the late 400s AD is widely known. Construction at Hopewell sites is believed to have halted by 500 AD. However, the precise date of the last Hopewell construction has never been fixed. The disappearance of the Hopewell Culture has been linked to a series of volcanic eruptions in Mexico and Central America that rapidly cooled the climate of that part of the world.

The sudden decline in the mid-500s AD of an advanced, Native American society of town builders in the Lower Southeast is less well known. Known as the Swift Creek Culture, these people lived in towns with large mounds unlike the Hopewell People, who lived in transient villages. The Swift Creek towns were generally located in or near fertile river bottom lands. This suggests that they were seriously into farming. The best known Swift Creek towns are today called Leake Mounds, near Cartersville, GA (northwest mountains) and Kolomoki Mounds, near Blakely, GA (Gulf Coastal Plain.)

Unlike the Hopewell Culture, the Southeastern towns and villages seemed to be thriving up until the early 500s. Something caused the sudden abandonment of the villages near the coast in that era.

During that same period, people in Kolomoki Mounds began living in underground homes, known as keyhole houses. The Gulf Coastal Plain has a humid, sub-tropical climate. Before and after the keyhole house period, Native Americans in the region lived in lightly structured huts that were designed for ventilation. These lightly structured houses left very few traces for archaeologists to uncover. Burrowing into the ground is something one does to say warm when it is cold outside.

Three hundred miles to the north at the Leake Mounds, archaeologists did not find any keyhole houses, but the population dropped suddenly. Many villages and towns that had been occupied since 200 BC-100 BC were abandoned in that region.

Architectural evidence suggests that the climate in the Scioto River Basin of Ohio became so bitterly cold during the late 400s and early 500s AD that humans had no time or energy to maintain ceremonial earthworks. Three hundred and seventy miles southward in northwest Georgia, the climate chilled to the point that agriculture was not possible, so people dispersed into hunter-gatherer villages. Three hundred miles farther south in Southwest Georgia, gardening was still possible, but winters were like those normally seen in the Great Lakes Region.

Could a comet strike the North Atlantic again? Scientists say, “Yes.”


For further study:

View of Monk's Mound

A World Treasure
Cahokia Mounds has also been recognized as a U. S. National Historic Landmark. Cahokia Mounds is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as a State Historic Site.

A Thriving Ancient Metropolis
According to archaeological finds, the city of Cahokia was inhabited from about A.D. 700 to 1400. At its peak, from A.D. 1050 to 1200, the city covered nearly six square miles and 10,000 to 20,000 people lived here. Over 120 mounds were built over time, and most of the mounds were enlarged several times. Houses were arranged in rows and around open plazas, and vast agricultural fields lay outside the city.

The site is named for the Cahokia subtribe of the Illiniwek (or Illinois tribe, a loose confederacy of related peoples), who moved into the area in the 1600s. They were living nearby when the French arrived about 1699. Sometime in the mid-1800s, local historians suggested the site be called “Cahokia” to honor these later arrivals.

Archaeological investigations and scientific tests, mostly since the 1920s and especially since the 1960s, have provided what is known of the once-thriving community.

The Mystery of Cahokia
The fate of the prehistoric Cahokians and their city is unknown, but the decline seems to have been gradual, beginning around the 1200s. By A.D. 1400 the site had been abandoned. Exactly where the people went or what tribes they became is yet to be determined.

Depletion of resources probably contributed to the city’s decline. Climate change after A.D. 1200 may have affected crop production and the plant and animal resources needed to sustain a large population. War, disease, social unrest, and declining political and economic power may have also taken their toll.

My family ties are to this area

I have more questions than answers concerning pre-history and the reluctance of the Smithsonian to open its halls of secrets…Lara/Trace

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