Aztalan is a prehistoric Native American village in southern Wisconsin that was occupied approximately A.D. 1050-1200. Archaeological evidence suggests that Aztalan was an ethnically diverse community – some residents were local to the area, but others were newcomers who brought their culturally-distinct beliefs, practices, and ways of living with them. These migrants to Aztalan were Mississippians with ties to Cahokia in southern Illinois, the largest and most powerful ancient society north of Mexico.

Investigations into the consequences of Mississippian migration to Aztalan have tended to suggest passive “Mississippianization”, in which the local Late Woodland peoples adopted aspects of Mississippian culture while abandoning many of their own traditional practices. This perspective emphasizes Cahokia and Mississippian culture as the sources of culture change across the Midwest. The popular Mississippianization concept resembles other models of asymmetrical culture change based on acculturation and colonization. The possibility that Mississippians and Late Woodland peoples jointly participated in their community has only been recently explored.

My approach to studying Aztalan is non-Cahokia-centric – that Mississippian migrants at Aztalan were not hegemonically dominant, but were influenced by the Late Woodland peoples with whom they interacted in daily life. Rather than asymmetrical transmission of Mississippian culture to Late Woodland peoples, I explore multi-directional interaction at Aztalan. This differs from many discussions of interaction that are framed around colonialism, acculturation, core-periphery relationships, and dominant-subordinate dichotomies. Overall, viewing Aztalan from this alternative perspective gives greater agency to indigenous peoples by de-emphasizing the immutability of socially-complex groups.

My research examines how the ethnic identities of the diverse residents of Aztalan were expressed and transformed through the architecture of their houses and palisade walls.