Great Empires of North America, Part 4: People of the Pyramid

The city of Cahokia in Missouri

Their culture, religion and cities welded the American Southeast into a single mighty civilization. Meet the empire builders of medieval Missouri.

The Great Sun was dead. As a gray dawn broke over the city’s towering pyramids, a procession of mourning priests and nobles paraded through the courtyard, bearing gifts for their king’s tomb. A cadre of soldiers brought up the reair, dragging hundreds of slaves who knew they were marching to their deaths.

Mourners laid the Great Sun’s body to rest atop a great burial mound, surrounding his royal person with thousands of disc beads arranged in the shape of a falcon. Nobles offered their gifts: beads, shells, pots, and finely worked arrowheads imported from faraway lands. Priests howled laments, shook rattles and chanted prayers.

Then the human sacrifices began.

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Great Empires of North America, Part 3: Colorado’s Urban Revolution

The Ancestral Puebloan city at Mesa Verde, Colorado.

From cliffside fortresses, they controlled a sprawling trade network — and hoarded wealth beyond dreams. Meet the merchant princes of the ancient Southwest.

When we hear terms like “invasion” and “first contact” in American history, we naturally think of European colonialism — and with good reason.

The Spanish arrival in New Mexico  devastated indigenous populations, disrupted regional trade, introduced horses and guns, and left the Southwest irreversibly transformed.

But the Spanish were not the first foreign people to set foot on Southwestern soil — nor were they the first to introduce new technologies, languages, beliefs and ways of life that radically altered the region’s ecology and social structure.

More than a thousand years before the Spanish, a different group of colonists erupted into the Southwest.

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