How an ancient city in Illinois is making us rethink gender roles.

In 1967, an archaeologist was excavating a giant, ancient city in the middle of Illinois.

What Cahokia may have looked like at its peak. Painting by William R. Iseminger/Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

The city, called Cahokia, existed from about 600 A.D. to about 1300 A.D. and is located across the river from modern St. Louis. It was massive; no other city in the contiguous United States would rival it until the 1800s.


In the midst of the city, archaeologists found something they called a monument to male power.

Cahokia Mounds has a number of giant structures, called earthworks. Inside one of them, Mound 72, archaeologist Melvin Fowler discovered a large number of burial sites. These included what appeared to be the graves of two very high-powered people who had been buried on cedar litters and surrounded by a bed of beads.

Artifacts from Cahokia. Photo from L. Brian Stauffer/University of Illinois.

Looking at the evidence, Fowler proposed that these bodies were both men, warriors and chiefs, which would make the entire site effectively a monument to them and their power.

This assumption was echoed outward for years.

"Fowler's and others' interpretation of these mounds became the model that everybody across the east was looking at in terms of understanding status and gender roles and symbolism among Native American groups in this time," Thomas Emerson, director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, said in a press release.

But new research has smashed that assumption.

An updated diagram of the beaded burial site. Image from Julie McMahon.

Researchers double-checking those first archaeologists maps and reports found something surprising.

"We had been checking to make sure that the individuals we were looking at matched how they had been described," said anthropologist Kristin Hedman. "And in re-examining the beaded burial, we discovered that the central burial included females. This was unexpected."

Even the notes about those two central elites were wrong. They weren't two men; they were one man and one woman. This completely changed the meaning and symbolism behind Mound 72.

Turns out, Cahokia wasn't a completely male-dominated society. It was a lot more equal than that.

"Now, we realize, we don't have a system in which males are these dominant figures and females are playing bit parts," Emerson said. "What we have at Cahokia is very much a nobility. It's not a male nobility. It's males and females, and their relationships are very important."

And this actually lines up better with some other stuff we know about this city, too. For example, a lot of the temples around Cahokia weren't dedicated to war or male power at all.

This undated photo shows a dig at Cahokia. The sign may say '86, but it's too blurry to tell. Photo by University/AFP/Getty Images.

"The symbolism is all about life renewal, fertility, agriculture," Emerson said. "Most of the stone figures found there are female."

In fact, when the Spanish and French came to the area in the 1500s, they noted how many societies had both men and women in positions of power, Emerson said.

Emerson attributed the mistaken assumption to archaeologists projecting warrior culture from the southwest back east — which is kind of a big mistake considering that it was hundreds of years earlier and hundreds of miles away. Plus, Native Americans aren't one single homogenous culture but hundreds of different nations with rich, complex, diverse histories.

As a side note, it's kind of awesome to see more evidence suggesting that not all societies are doomed to fall into systems with unequal gender roles.

We don't know enough to make grand pronouncements about specific aspects of Cahokian society — after all, it's totally possible that new evidence is still out there and will challenge all our assumptions yet again — but it's cool seeing how this new evidence hints that we shouldn't think that everything has to be a "monument to male power."

After all, both science and progress thrive when we challenge assumptions.

Lainey and baby goat Annie. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse
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Oftentimes, the journey to our true calling is winding and unexpected. Take Lainey Morse, who went from office manager to creator of the viral trend, Goat Yoga, thanks to her natural affinity for goats and throwing parties.

Back in 2015, Lainey bought a farm in Oregon and got her first goats who she named Ansel and Adams. "Once I got them, I was obsessed," says Lainey. "It was hard to get me off the farm to go do anything else."

Right away, she noticed what a calming presence they had. "Even the way they chew their cud is relaxing to be around because it's very methodical," she says. Lainey was going through a divorce and dealing with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at the time, but even when things got particularly hard, the goats provided relief.

"I found it impossible to be stressed or depressed when I was with them."

She started inviting friends up to the farm for what she called "Goat Happy Hour." Soon, the word spread about Lainey's delightful, stress-relieving furry friends. At one point, she auctioned off a child's birthday party at her farm, and the mom asked if they could do yoga with the goats. And lo, the idea for goat yoga was born.

A baby goat on a yoga student. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Goat yoga went viral so much so that by fall of 2016, Lainey was able to quit her office manager job at a remodeling company to manage her burgeoning goat yoga business full-time. Now she has 10 locations nationwide.

Lainey handles the backend management for all of her locations, and loves that side of the business too, even though it's less goat-related. "I still have my own personal Goat Happy Hour every single day so I still get to spend a lot of time with my goats," says Lainey. "I get the best of both worlds."

Lainey with her goat Fabio. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Since COVID-19 hit, her locations have had to close temporarily. She hopes her yoga locations will be able to resume classes in the spring when the vaccine is more widely available. "I think people will need goat yoga more than ever before, because everyone has been through so much stress in 2020," says Lainey.

Major life changes like Lainey's can come around for any number of reasons. Even if they seem out of left field to some, it doesn't mean they're not the right moves for you. The new FOX series "Call Me Kat", which premieres Sunday, January 3rd after NFL and will continue on Thursday nights beginning January 7th, exemplifies that. The show is centered around Kat, a 39-year old single woman played by Mayim Bialik, who quit her math professor job and spent her life's savings to pursue her dreams to open a Cat Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeff Harry started making similar moves when he was just 10-years-old, and kept making them throughout his life. After seeing the movie "Big,"Jeff knew he wanted to play with toys for a living, so he started writing toy companies asking for next steps. He finally got a response when he was a sophomore in high school — the company told him he needed to become a mechanical engineer first.

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