Monthly Archives: August 2011

Cahokia – the cherry upon the icing of the Mississippian cake.

31 August 2011 Comments (0)

It was settled around the 7th century, gradually evolving into a great urban center, populated more densely than London of the same time. For decades thousands of workers had shifted more than 55 million cubic feet of earth, building a great network of mounds and ceremonial plazas.

Over 120 mounds spread through the busy, bubbling, noisy city, with its crowded neighborhoods, smelly marketplaces and the multitude of different-size pyramids, some ridge-top for the burial purposes, some flat, platform-top for the ceremonial ones. The deceased rulers would be buried there, placed in a bed of the thousands marine shells, arranged sacredly in a form of this or that deity, with a treasure of many valuables – arrowheads, copper jewelry and, sometimes, a pile of sacrificial victims.

Wooden stockade, fortified with watchtowers, enclosed the important, ceremonial center of the city, separating the nobility from the lower classes. The neighborhood of the elite has to be kept quiet, cherished and protected. The royal Great Mound, ten storey tall, spacious and terraced, hosted main temples and the large dwelling of the ruler, who was tracing his dynasty to the Sun God himself. In order to protect the purity of the bloodline, the throne would always pass from the Ruler to his nephew, the son of his blood sister. No mortal noblewoman, married to the descendant of the Sun God, chaste as she might appear, could be trusted with delivering a pure blood next ruler.

Artificially made, adjacent Grand Plaza of almost 40 acres served for ceremonies and games, along with the smaller plazas, encircling the Great Mound. And, of course, astronomical observations were have to be conducted, in order to appease the gods properly. To the west of the Great Mound, Woodhenge – a circle of poles – served to track the movements of the major stars, marking mainly the solstices and the equinoxes.

Cahokia declined toward the 14th century. It may have begun with the climate changes that have, probably, affected the whole region, up to the west coast (approximately around this time, Anasazi had also abandoned their Great Houses in Arizona and Colorado canyons). It may be that the Cahokians themselves helped to affect the climate, deforesting the area unmercifully. Or maybe in such a large, densely populated urban center (up to 40,000 residents at its height) the diseases began to spread, thinning the population out.
Whatever the reason, Cahokia was no more, long before the first contact with the Europeans was made.

The Great Peacemaker

18 August 2011 Comments (0)

He came from across the Great Sparkling Water (Ontario), carrying the tidings of peace. Alone, in a stone canoe; or so the legend says.

His mission was suicidal. The southern shores of the Great Lake were torn by decades of a fierce warfare. Five powerful nations fought each other relentlessly, mercilessly, unable to stop what had, probably, begun as a few feuds and a few retaliations, developing over the years into a full scale war, into a vicious cycle of revenge and counter-revenge.

These wars brought nothing but destruction. These nations were doomed, he knew, unless stopped and made to think. Someone has to explain, made them see the reason. But he, of all people, was the less likely candidate to make himself heard, coming from the lands of the Crooked Tongues (Huron). Should someone stop to listen to his message, he would have difficulty to understand the stranger’s dialect.

But the Creator, the Right-Handed Twin himself, had entrusted him with this mission. He had no choice.

The misty shores of the Onondaga lands greeted him solemnly, reserved yet not hostile. Few hunters stared at the approaching canoe in disbelieve. Unafraid and businesslike, he informed them about his mission and sent them off to spread the word.

His fortune remained favorable when, next, he came to the dwelling of Jeconsahseh, a woman who kept her place neutral and who fed the passing by parties of warriors. Before entering her bark little lodge, the warriors were required to leave their weapons outside. She listened attentively and had no difficulty to understand the urgency of a peaceful solution. He promised her the leadership of the women, the Clan Mothers, when the peace is achieved.

Not afraid of the challenge, he then proceeded into the lands of the fiercest nation, the People of the Flint (Mohawks). Suspiciously, yet attentively, they listen to the stranger’s words. The situation must have been truly hopeless by this time, to make the warriors and their leaders’ minds so open. After a few miracles performed, they had agreed to listen. They had also no difficulty to understand the importance of his mission.

Still in the People of the Flint lands, he met Ayonwatha, the grief-stricken Onondaga leader, who has recently lost the last of his family in his strife against the loathsome and a very powerful sorcerer, Tadodarho. Removing Ayonwatha’s grief with the help of the wampum shells, the Great Peacemaker had instituted the traditional Condolence Ceremony for the generations to come. The Wampum Belts also had assumed their prominent place in the yet-to-be-born Great League of the Iroquois, documenting treaties and agreements that represented important events of the rich Five Nations’ history.

The both men now tried to meet the evil Tadodarho, but failed. So they proceeded into the lands of the neighboring People of the Standing Rock (Oneida) and the People of the Great Swamp (Cayuga). In the lands of the People of the Mountain (Seneca) the Peacemaker had to banish the sun from the noon sky to prove his might.

With four nations devotedly following, they returned into the lands of the evil Tadodarho once again, not deterred by the man’s repulsive appearances, nor by the snakes wrangling in his head. They song the Great Song of Peace and, eventually, were successful in pacifying the sorcerer’s evil mind.

With this last obstruction removed, the Great Peacemaker plunged into a more tedious task, establishing his great and a very elaborated set of laws, which would govern the united Five Nations for hundreds years to come, serving their purpose unfailingly and giving their example to the much-later-to-form USA constitution.

The Southwest Ancient Observatories

1 August 2011 Comments (3)

The Ancient Pueblo People would not let the events as summer or winter solstice go unnoticed; or uncelebrated.

Atop the most famous, imposing Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon three giant slabs of rocks are leaning against the cliff surface, as if trying to hide the spiral petroglyphs carved upon it.
But on the longest day of the year the carvings cannot hide from the power of the sun, when a vertical shaft of light pierces the larger spiral, cutting it in two. Then, half a year later, on the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice – two different shaft of light would embrace the same spiral, reflecting each other perfectly.

The recognition of the both solstices was very important. But to predict their arrival was as crucial, so more sites, such as another great, multi-roomed and multistoried house on Wijiji, would be used to observe the upcoming event, weeks before it would occur. This way, the time was gained to prepare the elaborated ceremonies and the sun would continue caring for the world, moving upon its usual course willingly, appreciating the efforts of grateful humans.

Back atop Fajada Butte, on the spring and fall equinoxes, another dagger of light would reach the center of the smaller spiral, while the large light shaft would shift to the right of the first spiral. And, it’s argued, the same system was used to track the lunar cycle as well.

The Chacoan People would scan the sky carefully, while building their multi-storey, great houses of hundreds, well conditioned rooms. By the 11th century they represented the ceremonial and economic center of the whole region, and their influence spread far and wide. A network of well-planned and well-kept roads connected those hundreds of great ceremonial centers, and probably, the rest of the farming communities. The trade with the south and the northeast had flourished, so event the high-pitched cries of the colorful macaws can be heard in the New Mexican desert.
Nothing seemed to be able to undermine the Great Cliff Dwellers’ ambitious undertakings.

Then the climate began to change…