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.
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.
They raised mighty mud-brick cities, and built a trade empire spanning the Southwest. Meet Arizona’s desert lords.
The people had been walking in the desert for many days. When they’d departed from northern Mexico on their great northward migration, they’d been more than a hundred strong – men, women and children, well-practiced at surviving in this merciless land.
These people knew how to drink water from cacti, how to trap the mice and lizards that scurried among the rocks, and how to find shady places to sleep through the brutal midday heat.
But this miserable life was very different from the one they’d left behind.
They built astronomical observatories and innovative farming systems — and we don’t even know their names. Meet the first great civilizations of Native American history.
Nearly four thousand years ago — as the city of Babylon was first growing into a metropolis and Egypt’s Middle Kingdom was in full swing — a group of hunters along North America’s Mississippi River assembled in their thousands, to build something very strange.
In a place that would someday be known as northern Louisiana, they staked out an area of some five hundred acres, and began to heap the earth into enormous mounds. Read more
My fascination with this started when, as a child growing up in Zimbabwe, I used to run and play amongst the ancient stone walls of the magnificent Zimbabwe Ruins. There is nothing more hauntingly beautiful or fascinating than a mysterious, long-gone civilization.