Archaeologists in Cahokia Discover Native American Black Drink Used in Rituals

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Painting by Lloyd K. Townsend. c. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Illinois
Archaeologists working at Cahokia, America’s first true mega-city, have discovered that many of the city’s 50,000 inhabitants drank a highly
caffeinated beverage called ‘Black Drink.’ Black Drink is a dark colored tea made by roasting the leaves of the Yaupon holly.
  Yaupon holly, and the Black Drink, contains very high levels of caffeine- as much as six times that of a modern cup of coffee.
The discovery pushes back the date of first use of Black Drink by over 500 years.  It also speaks to the widespread trade network maintained by the Cahokians as the closest source for the ilex vomitoria is the Gulf Coast, hundreds of miles south of modern St Louis, which is 20 miles from Cahokia. 
 According to the Illinois News Bureau story, Black Drink was used for many purposes, many of which were rituals.  It often served as a key component of a purification ritual before battle or other important events. Because of the strong caffeine content rapid consumption of large quantities of the hot drink led to vomiting, which was often an important part of purification rituals.
The Illinois News Bureau story notes that scientists “found key biochemical markers of the drink – theobromine, caffeine and ursolic acid –in the right proportions to each other in each of the eight beakers they tested. The beakers date from A.D. 1050 to 1250 and were collected at ritual sites in and around Cahokia.”
 The discovery lends credence to the theory that Cahokia was not an isolated city, but part of a broader web of economic and cultural connections in the area of what is now the Southeast and Midwest of the United States. According to Thomas Emerson, the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey: “[Cahokia] was the first pan-Indian city in North America, because there are both widespread contacts and emigrants…” Emerson also went on to suggest that Cahokia had attained “… a level of population density, a level of political organization that has not been seen before in North America.”
 I have to say I am thrilled by what we are learning about Cahokia. However, the article quotes Emerson as follows. “Cahokia was ultimately a failed experiment. The carving of figurines and the mound building there came to an abrupt end, and the population dwindled to zero. But its influence carried on. Cahokian influences in art, religion and architecture are seen as far away as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin… .” My main
problem with this is the description of Cahokia as a failed experiment. 
Let’s celebrate the fantastic discovery, the achievement of the Mississippian “civilization,” but lose the negative connotations of ‘failed experiment.’ 
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