Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Cold Hard Cache Volume 54 Number 6, November/December 2001
by Eric A. Powell

An unassuming, 900-year-old village in Illinois has yielded an unprecedented cache of stone axheads. Tim Pauketat of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was excavating one of a series of small hilltop villages some 15 miles from the ancient center of Cahokia when his crew came across a small pit containing 70 carefully arranged blades, the largest such cache ever found in the Cahokian world, and the first discovered since the 1940s.

Similar axhead caches have been excavated at Cahokia and other large mound centers. But how did a small village of some 300 people get its hand on such prestigious goods?

Pauketat had suspected the site was unique ever since he started excavating it. "We got lots of nice pottery, nice ceramics," he says, noting that homes in the village are unusually large for the area. The village is also densely packed, a trait the small community shares with Cahokia, but not the sprawling farm villages that are its closest neighbors.

Although four of the axheads show signs of wear, 66 of the blades were never used, suggesting they were created for ceremonial purposes, probably in Cahokia itself. "It may have been some kind of Cahokian enclave," suggests Pauketat, who acknowledges it's anyone's guess what would motivate elites from that ceremonial center to move to the sticks.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America