It's roughly 2,000 kilometers from St. Louis to modern Mexico city, as the crow flies; a little farther to the Yucatan. The Mississippi river and the Gulf of Mexico provide reasonably direct water links. Is there any evidence that trade, diplomacy, or other communication occurred between Cahokia and either Aztec Empire or any of the Mayan kingdoms?

Certainly some ideas defused, most obviously the key crops of corn, beans, and squash. To my untrained eye, Mississippian artwork resembles Mesoamerican, but that's not diagnostic.


3 Answers 3


There is a nice short summary of pre-Columbian trade in the Amreicas by David Carballo. It looks like Cahokian trade was focused on the North American landmass and did not extend to Mesoamerica in a significant way.

From the text:

Following the adoption of Mexican maize as a primary domesticate, a Mississippian trading system began to flourish within fertile alluvial lands known as the American Bottom, headed by the site of Cahokia (c.ad 1000–1300). Like its historical counterpart St. Louis, the ‘gateway to the West’, Cahokia was located near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi rivers, where prairie and woodland ecosystems meet. From this vantage point Cahokians traded regularly with a network spanning from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico north–south, and the Atlantic seaboard to Oklahoma east– west. This sphere of cultural and economic exchange is illustrated particularly nicely by the distribution of chunkey stones, which were used for a sport that involved hurling a javelin at rolled discs of this name. Chunkey stones were made from a quartzite local to the Cahokia region and are found throughout regions of the North American Midwest, Southeast and Plains that Cahokians traded with.

  • Interesting. He also describes trade between Mesoamerica and the ancient Pueblo, a similar distance and across desert rather than easily-traversed water. I wonder why there were no intermediate traders along the Gulf coast - or perhaps there were, but there's been no archaeological evidence uncovered yet.
    – user4139
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 17:28
  • 1
    Water is only easily traversed if you have ships that can take to the sea. The Cahokia culture was an inland society had so no real need of ocean-going ships. Land-based trade was what they knew so it was easier for that to grown than to invent a whole new technology...without even knowing there was someplace to go with it.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 15:23

As a one time interpretive guide at the Gila national monument in New Mex, a puebloan, Mimbres cliff community, I was able to pick up a few 'trade secrets', as it were. Its pretty much confirmed that a good amount of trade existed between meso-america and the S.W. US, namely with the puebloan ancestors like the Anasazi, Mimbres, and Hohokam. The god Tlaloc can be seen in a number of pictographs in the area, of which I have seen personally. This God originated in Meso-America. A moccasin from the great lakes was found in the Gila site.

And, while I've found no accounts of connections between the mound builders of mid US and Meso-america, Its hard to fathom that one didn't to some degree exist. The Mississippi river is a highway right down to the Gulf, and from the the Caribbean and the Mayan shores of Guatamala, not to mention Veracruz, an Olmec center. Could very well be that either their trade goods have decayed or simply haven't been found. BTW, corn is a highly complex plant that was systematically 'genetically engineered' by the early meso americans. This Maize then spread, well pretty much all through the americas... certainly by trade.


A fair number of Mississippian/Cahokian archaeologists will whisper an acknowledgement that there were likely ties over drinks. Such speculation was taboo among the old guard professors. Recently, Timothy Pauketat, Director of the Illinois Archaeological Survey has broken from the pack, writing and speaking publicly on evidence of Mayan influence spreading northward out of northern Mexico to Chaco and Cahokia. As droughts worsened in the Mayan heartland, a culture focused on the bringers of rain spread northward. In addition to maize, he points out several other indicators of Mayan influence:

  • stone daggers that suddenly appear at Cahokia, round top mounds with round steam bath houses, thunder birds (circling around poles like the Danza Voladores, female goddess statues, etc.

In our research at Picture Cave in Missouri, I interpret one panel as a very detailed depiction of the Danza Voladores codice images. Yet to be published, it may be the single best evidence for Mexico-Cahokia ties.

  • For anyone wishing to see a little more on Picture Cave , a link here has some interesting info.
    – justCal
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 19:18

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