Land of Water, City of the Dead Religion and Cahokia’s Emergence

Land of Water, City of the Dead explores the embodiment of religion in the Cahokia land and how places create, make meaningful, and transform practices and beliefs.


Cahokia, the largest city of the Mississippian mound cultures, lies outside present-day East St. Louis. Land of Water, City of the Dead reconceptualizes Cahokia’s emergence and expansion (ca. 1050–1200), focusing on understanding a newly imagined religion and complexity through a non-Western lens. Sarah E. Baires argues that this system of beliefs was a dynamic, lived component, based on a broader ontology, with roots in other mound societies. This religion was realized through novel mortuary practices and burial mounds as well as through the careful planning and development of this early city’s urban landscape.


Baires analyzes the organization and alignment of the precinct of downtown Cahokia with a specific focus on the newly discovered and excavated Rattlesnake Causeway and the ridge-top mortuary mounds located along the site axes. Land of Water, City of the Dead also presents new data from the 1954 excavations of the ridge-top mortuary Wilson Mound and a complete analysis of the associated human remains. Through this skeletal analysis, Baires discusses the ways that Cahokians processed and buried their ancestors, identifying unique mortuary practices that include the intentional dismemberment of human bodies and burial with marine shell beads and other materials.


Sarah E. Baires is an assistant professor of anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University.


“Baires’s book is a good addition to the available information on Cahokia. She pulls together data from a variety of sources, but most importantly, she provides details on legacy data that are not readily available elsewhere. In addition, Baires develops an argument for looking at Cahokia and religion in a different way, and whether or not you agree with her particular approach, new perspectives always move discussion and knowledge forward.”

—Lynne Goldstein, professor of anthropology at Michigan State University


“The detailed discussion of Cahokia’s ridge-top mounds, the presentation of largely unpublished descriptions of burial features and cultural materials associated with these mounds, and new observations of skeletal materials from Wilson Mound make this a valuable resource for other researchers.”

—Kristin Hedman, coeditor of Transforming the Dead: Culturally Modified Bone in the Prehistoric Midwest


About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.