3260 South Street, Penn Museum Rm 345
Cahokia—the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas north of Mexico—was fed by farmers who grew a diverse array of crops, several of which were domesticated locally but fell from use after the Mississippian center was abandoned before 1400 CE. The surviving crops, including corn, sunflower, and squashes, persisted as important foods in Native American agricultural systems, and are, of course, members of food systems around the world today. The precise workings of Cahokia’s complex subsistence economy are elusive, but attempts to explain it are incomplete without factoring in the now lost crops. Although chenopod, maygrass, erect knotweed, little barley, and marshelder must have had a positive impact on food security, health, and cultural resilience, they were victims to climatic and political shifts that confronted Cahokians between 1000 and 1350 CE. Researchers are now growing out close surviving relatives of these crops in order to understand their ecological preferences, productive potentials, and behavioral plasticity. Goals are to appreciate the contributions of Native American food producers, to redomesticate high-value species, and to enhance modern food security by applying lessons from the past.