Some archaeologists might pussyfoot around this question more than Pauketat does, but it also seems clear that political and religious power in Cahokia revolved around another ancient tradition. Cahokians performed human sacrifice, as part of some kind of theatrical, community-wide ceremony, on a startlingly large scale unknown in North America above the valley of Mexico. Simultaneous burials of as many as 53 young women (quite possibly selected for their beauty) have been uncovered beneath Cahokia's mounds, and in some cases victims were evidently clubbed to death on the edge of a burial pit, and then fell into it. A few of them weren't dead yet when they went into the pit — skeletons have been found with their phalanges, or finger bones, digging into the layer of sand beneath them.
These women, Pauketat hypothesizes, came from mostly female agrarian villages surrounding Cahokia. (Which raises even more questions, most notably: Where did all the men go?) Further investigation into the contents of Mound 72 revealed more corpses, 250 in all, including some men. At the very top of the pile were two men, one wrapped in a beaded cloak in the shape of a thunderbird. It's not clear exactly who he was, but all signs point to him being a Very Important Cahokian and that the other bodies were somehow related to him and his cohort. — Aimee Levitt