Defining the boundaries of this American Bottom Mississippian global economy is straight forward. Interpreting the character and meaning of the trade and interaction networks represented by these materials are more difficult.
On the one hand, this distribution of American Bottom decorative styles and the provenance of exotic materials might indicate that the elite at Cahokia actively directed trade with these distant places to obtain exotic raw materials through the employment of professional traders or emissaries. According to this model the economic power of the Mississippian elite at Cahokia was unrivaled in eastern North American. At the opposite extreme, exotic materials may have been simply traded "up and down the line" without professional traders, emissaries, or the active participation of the Cahokia elite. In this model, valuable goods owned by a member of one hamlet, village or mound center were used to trade or purchase some other item owned by neighbors and acquaintances living elsewhere. Through time goods valued throughout eastern North America would eventually reach Mississippians in the American Bottom with the economic ability to pay. These very different interpretations have significant implications for understanding the sociopolitical complexity of Mississippian Cahokia and the extent of the elite's power. Some evidence for deciding between these two extremes is provided in the Technology and Society sections.
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