Cahokia's emergence and decline coincided with shifts of flood frequency on the Mississippi River

Samuel E. Munoz, Kristine E. Gruley, Ashtin Massie, David A. Fike, Sissel Schroeder, John W. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Here we establish the timing of major flood events of the central Mississippi River over the last 1,800 y, using floodwater sediments deposited in two floodplain lakes. Shifts in the frequency of highmagnitude floods are mediated by moisture availability over midcontinental North America and correspond to the emergence and decline of Cahokia - a major late prehistoric settlement in the Mississippi River floodplain. The absence of large floods from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1200 facilitated agricultural intensification, population growth, and settlement expansion across the floodplain that are associated with the emergence of Cahokia as a regional center around A.D. 1050. The return of large floods after A.D. 1200, driven by waning midcontinental aridity, marks the onset of sociopolitical reorganization and depopulation that culminate in the abandonment of Cahokia and the surrounding region by A.D. 1350. Shifts in the frequency and magnitude of flooding may be an underappreciated but critical factor in the formation and dissolution of social complexity in early agricultural societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6319-6324
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 19 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Geoarchaeology
  • Mississippi River
  • Paleohydrology
  • |Cahokia

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • CAHO

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