Segmented and ascendant chiefdom polity as viewed from the Divers site

Glen Alois Freimuth
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
July, 2010
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This study contributes to our understanding of the nature of political control exerted by the Mississippian Cahokia polity over small rural villages in the southern American Bottom. Currently two models, which I call the Segmented and Ascendant Chiefdoms, respectively, provide contrasting explanations of the nature and amount of Cahokia control over rural villages. I examine the fit of these models against archaeological data from the Divers and other regional sites. The analyses range over several main topics, including populations, labor requirements, nonlocal artifacts, provisioning, and rituals.
I find that the archaeological patterns expressed at the Divers site best fit a Segmented Chiefdom model wherein political control is decentralized and rural villages retain a high degree of political autonomy. Cahokia, as the American Bottom's main Mississippian town, has the largest population, physical size, elite status items, and monumental construction which I describe as material domination and political dominance. Political dominance requires manipulation of local leaders and their followers for political and social control and this manipulation was expressed through ritual materials and rituals performed at Cahokia and other mound towns. The Cahokia elite created new rituals and associated material expressions through collective action and attempted to gain control of existing commoner ritual performances and symbols but these and political autonomy largely remained with the commoners who occupied small villages like Divers.