John E. Kelly

Senior Lecturer in Archaeology
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
research interests:
  • Archeology of Eastern North America
  • Mississippian Emergence and Decline
  • North America
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1114
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    John E. Kelly's interest and expertise is in Eastern North American archaeology with a focus on the central Mississippi River Valley and the cultural  developments related to Mississippian culture, especially the Cahokia site. 

    A passionate interest in this center of Mississippian society began nearly thirty years ago. Kelly has been involved in a number of survey and excavation projects in the Mississippi valley. In addition to his initial field work at Cahokia between 1969 and 1972 with Beloit College, he directed the excavations at the large multicomponent Range site. More than 5000 prehistoric features and 600 structures were excavated in advance of an interstate. The analysis of the materials from this site have resulted in the delineation of 25 occupational episodes that were extant between AD 600 and 1100. The configuration of the various communities provides significant insights into the principles of community organization prior to the emergence of Mississippian culture at AD 1050.

    Most recently he has been involved in the rediscovery of the Mississippian mound center in East St. Louis. It was assumed that this mound center had been destroyed during the industrial and commercial development of East St. Louis. However, a study of the historical documents and collections housed in different institutions around the country along with recent excavations have provided evidence of the site in the backyards and alleys of the present city. Portions of five mounds have been identified as well as numerous prehistoric buildings and other features related to this once vibrant center. Kelly's earlier interest in Cahokia has now turned toward the area he also recently excavated, an early Mississippian village in the uplands east of Cahokia. This site has important implications on the role of ritual in the organization of space. Presently, his research is based upon the role of ritual and kinship in the mix of ingredients that contribute to the dispersal of the Mississippian population in the fourteenth century.

    Selected Publications

    2008     Contemplating Cahokia’s Collapse.  In Global Perspectives on the Collapse of Complex Systems, edited by Jim A. Railey and Richard Martin Reycraft, Anthropological Papers No. 8, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.

    2008     (Senior author with James A. Brown and  Lucretia S. Kelly) The Context of Religion at Cahokia: The Mound 34 Case.  In Religion in the Material World, edited by Lars Foeglin. CAI Occasional Paper No. 36. SIU Carbondale.

    2007     (junior author with Lucretia S. Kelly) Swans in the American Bottom during the Emergent Mississippian and Mississippian. Illinois Archaeology  15 -16:112-141.

    2007     (Senior author with James A. Brown, Jenna M. Hamlin, Lucretia S. Kelly, Laura Kozuch, Kathryn Parker, and Juliann VanNest) Mound 34:  The Context for the Early Evidence of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. In Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Iconography, and Meaning, edited by Adam King,pp. 57-87.  University of Alabama Press.

    2006     The Ritualization of Cahokia: The Structure and Organization of Early Cahokia Crafts. In Leadership and Polity in Mississippian Society, edited by Brian M. Butler and Paul D. Welch, pp. 236-263. CAI Occasional Paper No. 33. SIU Carbondale.

    2004     The Mitchell Mound Center:  Then and Now.  In Aboriginal Ritual and Economy in the Eastern Woodlands: Papers in Memory of Howard Dalton Winters, edited by Anne-Marie Cantwell and Lawrence A. Conrad, and Jonathan E. Reyman, pp. 269-284. Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers, Vol. XXX and Kampsville Studies in Archaeology and History, Vol. 3.

    2003     The Context of the Post Pit and Meaning of the Sacred Pole at the East St. Louis Mound Group.  In A Deep-time Perspective: Studies in Symbols, Meaning, and the Archaeological Record, Papers in Honor of Robert L. Hall, edited by John D. Richards and Melvin L. Fowler. The Wisconsin Archeologist 84: 107-125.

    2003     The Preservation of the East St. Louis Mound Group: An Historical Perspective.  The SAA Archaeological Record, Vol. 3 (3):20-23, 27.

    2002     The Pulcher Tradition and the Ritualization of Cahokia: A Perspective from Cahokia’s Southern Neighbor.  Paper in Frontiers, Peripheries, and Backwaters: Social Formations at the Edges of the Mississippian World, edited by Adam King and Maureen Myers.  Southeastern Archaeology, 21 (2):136-148.

    2002     The Woodland Southeast: A Perspective from the Woodland Midwest. In The Woodland Southeast, edited by David G. Anderson and Robert C. Mainfort, Jr. University of Alabama Press.

    2002     Charles Rau: Developments in the Career of a 19th Century German-American Archaeologist.  In New Perspectives on the Origins of Americanist Archaeology, edited by David L. Browman and Stephen Williams. University of Alabama             Press.

    2000     The Grassy Lake Site: An Historical and Archaeological Overview.  In Mounds, Modoc, and Mesoamerica:  Papers in Honor of Melvin L. Fowler, ed. by Steve R. Ahler.  Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers, Vol. XXVIII:141-178.

    2000     (James Brown, junior author) Cahokia and the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.  In Mounds, Modoc, and Mesoamerica:  Papers in Honor of Melvin L. Fowler, ed. by Steve R. Ahler.  Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers, Vol. XXVIII:469-510.

    1999       East St. Louis’s Lost Legacy:  The Rediscovery of an Urban Mound Center. Gateway Heritage: The Quarterly Magazine of the Missouri Historical Society 20 (1): 4-15.  St. Louis.