The Power of Water and Dragons in Three Early Cities
Cahokia, Paquime, and Liangzhu
Timothy Pauketat 蒂姆·伯克塔特
University of Illinois 美国伊利诺伊大学
Water is among the most elemental and common of substances on earth. Formless and permeable, it is subject to powerful transubstantiations—from solid to liquid to gas. People witness this power. They drink it in, and they sweat it out. It infuses all of human life and history in ways that we tend not to theorize. Thus, archaeologists have not sufficiently considered water’s powers or its “agency” in shaping the ways in which people build and experience urbanism. Today, there are new reasons to reconsider the powers of water in the rise of the earliest cities. I examine three proto-urban complexes: Cahokia in the central Mississippi valley of North America, Paquimé in northwestern Mexico, and Liangzhu in east-central China.
In the case of Cahokia, water—in the form of water vapor and rainfall—was clearly a catalyst if not a full-fledged historical actor in the formation of this city. This is clearest in our excavations atop the Emerald Acropolis, a day’s walk (24 km) to the east. Susan Alt and I now believe that this religious complex elevated a series of circular “water shrines” and was integral to the rise of Cahokia (at about 1050 CE). Cahokia itself was a city of water vapors whose people recognized a great serpent spirit. Its central grounds and its steam baths pulled people into its orbit. Major ceremonials in some ways referenced the power of water and related lunar cycles.
Quite unlike Cahokia was Paquimé, a small city that formed in the 1200s CE thanks to groundwater and rainfall. Here, evaporation may have been a critical way that people and water mediated each other. Paquimé’s cisterns gave that small city its periodic bustle and a set of distinctive qualities, including the sound effects of trickling water and the squawking of water-related birds in cages. They also revered a serpent spirit.
Perhaps Liangzhu, by contrast, brought the powers of dragons and rain spirits into the midst of Neolithic rice farmers in ways very different from both Cahokia and Paquimé. After all, the people there would have moved on and through a “distanciated” city of water and rice paddies. And the power of a great serpent might have permeated the city, if the monthly tidal bore that moved up the Qiantang River constituted such a being in 3000 BCE. That tidal bore is, after all, about the same distance (26 km) from Liangzhu that the Emerald Acropolis is from Cahokia.
In each case, the ways water engaged people, and vice versa, gave the city a distinctive temporal feel that impacted its larger history and probably led to specific kinds of urbanism. If so then it is not enough to generalize about the causes of urbanization, nor to look only to the rise of elites for answers to why civilizations emerged. We must understand how substances, materials, and phenomena formed the lifeblood of any city, even before people arrived on the scene.”
e people recognized a great serpent spirit. Its central grounds and its steam baths pulled people into its orbit. Major ceremonials in some ways referenced the power of water and related lunar cycles.
Tim Pauketat is an archaeologist with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He previously taught at the University of Oklahoma and the State University of New York before moving to Illinois in 1998. His research focuses on the causal relationships of material culture, spirituality, natural phenomena, and human experience in order to understand the beginnings of civilization in North America and beyond. He has more than 25 years experience working in the Mississippi valley, with a special interest in the archaeology of Greater Cahokia and its colonies. Pauketat is the author or editor of a dozen books and many more data monographs and journal articles. He is currently editing a new synthesis of North American archaeology, with Kenneth Sassaman, and a book on early cities and religion, with Susan Alt.
Tim Pauketat为美国伊利诺伊大学厄本那香槟分校人类学教授、伊利诺伊州立考古调查项目考古学家。他之前曾任教于俄克拉荷马大学和纽约州立大学。其研究方向为物质文化、精神性、自然现象与人类体验之间的因果关系，以探讨北美和其他地区文明的起源。他在密西西比河谷工作超过25年，尤其是大卡霍基亚地区及其属地的考古。他编著有学术论著多篇（部），目前正与Kenneth Sassaman合作编纂一部新的北美考古综合著述，与Susan Alt合著一本关于早期城市和宗教的论著。