Could the Mississippi-Missouri river system have become a cradle of civilization?

Many of the OTL cradles of civilization were based around major rivers like the Nile, the Indo-Gangetic plain, the Mesopotamian region with the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Yangtze and Yellow River of China. The New World isn't lacking in major river systems either, and in particular the Mississippi-Missouri system stands out as a viable candidate.

Could it be possible for, say, a Cahokia-like civilization to have a long-term influence on the area the way ancient Egyptians developed around the Nile?
 
With an earlier adoption of short season corn and animal husbandry/aquaculture of fish maybe.
The problem with that, is that while the Mississippi and Missouri could've become a cradle of civilization to rival the Euphrates and Tigris, there weren't a lot of easily tame-able animals over there, you'd have to prevent a lot of the obvious candidates (such as horses) from becoming extinct in the Americas. That way, you'd have a fertile, flat land several times the size of the Fertile Crescent, and beasts of burden to help humans move and trade goods, you'd end up with several cities the size of Tenochtitlan centuries if not millennia ahead of schedule.
 
The problem with that, is that while the Mississippi and Missouri could've become a cradle of civilization to rival the Euphrates and Tigris, there weren't a lot of easily tame-able animals over there, you'd have to prevent a lot of the obvious candidates (such as horses) from becoming extinct in the Americas. That way, you'd have a fertile, flat land several times the size of the Fertile Crescent, and beasts of burden to help humans move and trade goods, you'd end up with several cities the size of Tenochtitlan centuries if not millennia ahead of schedule.
Not really. Beasts of burden are nice but dogs can (somewhat) fill that role and some potential domesticates already exist in Eastern North America like ducks (mallards), the Canada goose, and maybe squirrels which give protein to the people (Cahokia IIRC suffered a lack of protein at its height) and also their dogs. If the population is large enough, then many people will work as porters.

Obviously you have the rivers to move goods--in Mesoamerica and the Andes this is FAR less important. While the Mississippi is a lot more wild than the Nile, shipping down the river is very possible. In some tributaries it will be much easier. So many tributaries are navigable with kayaks and flatboats.

If the Mississippi-Missouri developed at the same time as Mesoamerica, or maybe a few centuries after and we had alt-Cahokia as a contemporary to the Olmecs, then odds are they would've surpassed Mesoamerica. The flat terrain and river transportation promotes much larger empires. It's a place where even without horses, you could have an empire from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, bounded by the Appalachians on one side and fading onto the Plains on the other. This would be your alt-Aztecs I guess, although such an empire is by no means inevitable.

I think they'd end up developing metallurgy (beyond the copper working present OTL) and would smelt copper, gold, lead, and whatever else was available. I don't know if they'd smelt iron although it's readily available.

I think we'd have a site further south emerge first as maize agriculture becomes firmly established, contemporary to the Olmecs, maybe in the Delta region. This culture is our Olmec-equivalent. They decline and the center moves further north around the Roman Warm Period to Cahokia and they are our Teotihuacan, exerting an incredible cultural force in addition to building their own empire in the region. After they collapse around the 6th century, there's a multitude of states and centers, some very influential (i.e. Toltecs), and one of which will eventually establish a major empire. There's obviously many great sites for cities in this region, so could be around Little Rock, St. Louis (i.e. renewed Cahokia), Paducah, Nashville, Florence, Huntsville, Louisville, etc.
 
Last edited:
With an earlier adoption of short season corn and animal husbandry/aquaculture of fish maybe.
An earlier development of the Eastern Agricultural Complex seems like a better option to me than the earlier spread of short season corn, even if it probably requires significant changes in the paleo-Indian period. After all, the principal center of the EAC's development was, in fact, the Missouri-Mississippi-Ohio confluence region and adjacent territories, so if it begins to be developed more or less contemporaneously with maize (and potato) agriculture instead of many thousands of years later then you more or less instantly get the OP's desire. This avoids difficulties with plant breeding and transmission across hostile environments.
 
An earlier development of the Eastern Agricultural Complex seems like a better option to me than the earlier spread of short season corn, even if it probably requires significant changes in the paleo-Indian period. After all, the principal center of the EAC's development was, in fact, the Missouri-Mississippi-Ohio confluence region and adjacent territories, so if it begins to be developed more or less contemporaneously with maize (and potato) agriculture instead of many thousands of years later then you more or less instantly get the OP's desire. This avoids difficulties with plant breeding and transmission across hostile environments.
corn was able to supplant the other grains, pseudo grains and seeds used in the North America due to even then a much higher calorie per sqm.

It’s spread across the Americas north of the Rio Grande is due to that.
 
Obviously not, because (insert Jared Diamond dogma here). Anyway, as for serious discussion, yes it could have, but you need to solve the nutritional deficiencies that the Mississipians had. An earlier spread of beans northward from Mexico, combined with better soil-managing techniques, and a retained Eastern Agricultural Complex, could lead to the rise of bigger societies. Then there's the problem of animal domesticates, maybe they domesticate deer?
 
Last edited:
Obviously not, because (Insert Jared Diamond dogma here). Anyway, as for serious discussion, yes it could have, but you need to solve the nutritional deficiencies that the Mississipians had. An earlier spread of beans northward from Mexico, combined with better soil-managing techniques, and a retained Eastern Agricultural Complex, could lead to the rise of bigger societies. Then there's the problem of animal domesticates, maybe they domesticate deer?
Deer are way too individualistic and easily frightened imo. A better domesticable candidate would perhaps be the elk or wapiti, who live in herds. These are also ruminants and have a short gestation period which might be desirable attributes for domestication.
 
corn was able to supplant the other grains, pseudo grains and seeds used in the North America due to even then a much higher calorie per sqm.

It’s spread across the Americas north of the Rio Grande is due to that.
Even granting that this is inherent and not the result of maize having many thousands of years of additional plant breeding behind it (the EAC plants may have begun to be domesticated seven thousand or more years after maize), I don't think it's actually very relevant, since even if corn is better in some sense the EAC is still sufficient and, unlike maize, is native to the exact area of interest to the OP. Corn has a higher yield than wheat, too, but that didn't keep the North China Plain and Mesopotamia from forming empires that were fed by the latter crop. Obviously the barriers to maize adoption are much lower for people living along the Mississippi than for people living around the Euphrates, but that doesn't mean that they are easy to overcome.

Moreover, an earlier development of the EAC does not at all prevent short season corn from being adopted as it becomes available, in a similar way to how the Chinese adopted glutinous rice varieties from Southeast Asia later in their history. But having several thousand extra years as sedentary agricultural societies is still likely to lead to major changes in cultural development that will tend towards the formation of larger, more complex structures such as those the OP desires.
 
Not really. Beasts of burden are nice but dogs can (somewhat) fill that role and some potential domesticates already exist in Eastern North America like ducks (mallards), the Canada goose, and maybe squirrels which give protein to the people (Cahokia IIRC suffered a lack of protein at its height) and also their dogs. If the population is large enough, then many people will work as porters.

Obviously you have the rivers to move goods--in Mesoamerica and the Andes this is FAR less important. While the Mississippi is a lot more wild than the Nile, shipping down the river is very possible. In some tributaries it will be much easier. So many tributaries are navigable with kayaks and flatboats.

If the Mississippi-Missouri developed at the same time as Mesoamerica, or maybe a few centuries after and we had alt-Cahokia as a contemporary to the Olmecs, then odds are they would've surpassed Mesoamerica. The flat terrain and river transportation promotes much larger empires. It's a place where even without horses, you could have an empire from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, bounded by the Appalachians on one side and fading onto the Plains on the other. This would be your alt-Aztecs I guess, although such an empire is by no means inevitable.

I think they'd end up developing metallurgy (beyond the copper working present OTL) and would smelt copper, gold, lead, and whatever else was available. I don't know if they'd smelt iron although it's readily available.

I think we'd have a site further south emerge first as maize agriculture becomes firmly established, contemporary to the Olmecs, maybe in the Delta region. This culture is our Olmec-equivalent. They decline and the center moves further north around the Roman Warm Period to Cahokia and they are our Teotihuacan, exerting an incredible cultural force in addition to building their own empire in the region. After they collapse around the 6th century, there's a multitude of states and centers, some very influential (i.e. Toltecs), and one of which will eventually establish a major empire. There's obviously many great sites for cities in this region, so could be around Little Rock, St. Louis (i.e. renewed Cahokia), Paducah, Nashville, Florence, Huntsville, Louisville, etc.
Not really, dogs and ducks can't fulfill the roles cow's pigs and horses did, and you need all of these plus some others inorder to get the civilisation level of the fertile Cresent, and non of the animals living there are suitable for domestication, we have tried and we haven't done it these days let alone back before cities where a thing.

In the end to answer the open question, yes but only if domestic animals (and also some other domestic crops but those i think can be found in the new world domesticly) are there whith them.
 
How about having wild rice be domesticated? AFAIK there are no big obstacles to that, which makes the fact that they weren't until the 20th or so century all the more puzzling.
 
Not really, dogs and ducks can't fulfill the roles cow's pigs and horses did, and you need all of these plus some others inorder to get the civilisation level of the fertile Cresent, and non of the animals living there are suitable for domestication, we have tried and we haven't done it these days let alone back before cities where a thing.
Beasts of burden are emphatically not needed for civilisation to exist since dogs and humans exist and this happens to be a mostly flat country full of rivers unlike Mesoamerica's mountains and scarcity of rivers. Those animals give protein, that's the point. Mesoamerica built a complex, developed civilisation with few domesticates, and giving the Mississippi Basin the same development would produce something just as great or greater.
 
For all the hate that Jared Diamond gets, it's a wonder everyone comes around to dealing with these problems through his framework at some point.
 
Beasts of burden are emphatically not needed for civilisation to exist since dogs and humans exist and this happens to be a mostly flat country full of rivers unlike Mesoamerica's mountains and scarcity of rivers. Those animals give protein, that's the point. Mesoamerica built a complex, developed civilisation with few domesticates, and giving the Mississippi Basin the same development would produce something just as great or greater.
Then way didn't it happen in real life? because they don't gust give proten they provide the kind of fusical power you can get with humans. Especially cows which all river valley civilizations had and the new world dint.
 
Then way didn't it happen in real life? because they don't gust give proten they provide the kind of fusical power you can get with humans. Especially cows which all river valley civilizations had and the new world dint.
In large part because their main crop, maize, was not widely grown until the early 1st millennium AD and it took them a little longer after that to breed cold-tolerant versions. While the lack of beasts of burden is certainly a factor, it was by no means the only factor. There are alternative paths to complex civilisation. We can just as easily imagine the critical links in trade being met by human porters, watercraft, and dogs. Much like Mesoamerica which is a striking example of how a complex, developed civilisation can exist with no domesticated animals besides dogs, chickens, and (muscovy) ducks.
 
In large part because their main crop, maize, was not widely grown until the early 1st millennium AD and it took them a little longer after that to breed cold-tolerant versions. While the lack of beasts of burden is certainly a factor, it was by no means the only factor. There are alternative paths to complex civilisation. We can just as easily imagine the critical links in trade being met by human porters, watercraft, and dogs. Much like Mesoamerica which is a striking example of how a complex, developed civilisation can exist with no domesticated animals besides dogs, chickens, and (muscovy) ducks.
I don't think they can, and Mesoamerica dosnt really work out they way you are thinking it dose senses they did have one (not very good) large domestic animal and even then dint get far past the rivers civilisation model.
 
In large part because their main crop, maize, was not widely grown until the early 1st millennium AD and it took them a little longer after that to breed cold-tolerant versions. While the lack of beasts of burden is certainly a factor, it was by no means the only factor. There are alternative paths to complex civilisation. We can just as easily imagine the critical links in trade being met by human porters, watercraft, and dogs. Much like Mesoamerica which is a striking example of how a complex, developed civilisation can exist with no domesticated animals besides dogs, chickens, and (muscovy) ducks.
I mean, it's conceivable you *could* get beasts of burden in the Americas, if you domesticate certain animals as much as we did dogs.
Take Moose for example. They're large, strongly-built, water-tolerant, cold-tolerant, ruminant animals with useful furs and antlers that can be used as a great value version of ivory,
You could even ride them! Not that they're easy to stay on, of course.

If you spent a couple thousand years or so trying to domesticate moose, you could probably breed out their less desirable traits; like their penchant for individualism, their temperament, etc. And then, Kachow!
You've got an animal that can do basically anything you could need it to to help a sedentary civilisation.
 
The problem with that, is that while the Mississippi and Missouri could've become a cradle of civilization to rival the Euphrates and Tigris, there weren't a lot of easily tame-able animals over there, you'd have to prevent a lot of the obvious candidates (such as horses) from becoming extinct in the Americas. That way, you'd have a fertile, flat land several times the size of the Fertile Crescent, and beasts of burden to help humans move and trade goods, you'd end up with several cities the size of Tenochtitlan centuries if not millennia ahead of schedule.
Why not domesticate Buffalo?
 
Top