"Experts disagree about Cahokia’s exact population—and most other aspects of its society. Yet many archaeologists estimate that at its peak around the year 1100, Cahokia housed 10,000 to 20,000 people, with up to 50,000 inhabitants living in the surrounding area—a population size rivalling or surpassing concurrent European cities. Yet conventional theories of Native American agriculture, which is depicted as relatively non-productive and reliant on a classic trio of corn, squash, and beans, fail to account for a fundamental question: How did the Cahokians feed so many people?
Gayle Fritz has an answer. Archaeologists have long argued that Cahokians, like other indigenous North American cultures, relied heavily on corn. That’s true, says Fritz, a paleoethnobotanist and emeritus professor at Washington University in St. Louis. But in her new book, Feeding Cahokia, Fritz uses data from more recent seed flotation studies to argue that Cahokian crops were much more diverse than previously believed. This supports interpretations of Cahokia as a densely populated, prosperous city—and challenges older assumptions about the simplicity of Native American farming."