In Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi, anthropologist and archaeologist Timothy Pauketat argues that Cahokia, a large mound city located in modern-day East St. Louis, was the site of a "big bang" in city-building. Its rise and fall was a major turning point in the history of the Woodland peoples of Eastern North America. The rise of Cahokia, Pauketat argues, "ushered in a whole new way of life across much of the North American continent."
In short, Pauketat illustrates that Cahokia sat amid a far-flung trading network, one which served as a conduit for Cahokia culture. This culture was top-down, stratified, and highly advanced, featuring complex bureaucracies and power relations. Pauketat basically claims that Cahokia was at the center of what is known by archaeologists as the Mississippian civilization. Mississippian culture influenced peoples throughout the Mississippi Valley and, significantly, into the American Southeast. He cites the existence of trade goods in Cahokia from far-flung locations in central America, the Southeast, and the modern West to support his contention that Cahokia not only had connections with these peoples, but actually played a major role in spreading its own culture throughout much of the continent.
For general readers that may not be familiar with scholarly interpretations of Native civilizations, then, he offers a very different vision of the continent's history before contact, one that centers on the extraordinary but short-lived site at Cahokia. As he writes, the evidence at Cahokia points to an urban area larger than most in Europe, and one that had far-reaching contacts and influence in North America.