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Something's turned up at a road construction site near Alton, Illinois. A pair of skeletal remains is causing a sensation in the local papers, and it falls on archaeologists Daniel and Lauren French to determine whether the project can go forward. But when further excavation turns up dozens of graves - each containing female remains - an ordinary dig turns into a major archaeological expedition. Quickly dubbed by the local press, Ancient Queens of Alton, the ...
Something's turned up at a road construction site near Alton, Illinois. A pair of skeletal remains is causing a sensation in the local papers, and it falls on archaeologists Daniel and Lauren French to determine whether the project can go forward. But when further excavation turns up dozens of graves - each containing female remains - an ordinary dig turns into a major archaeological expedition. Quickly dubbed by the local press, Ancient Queens of Alton, the gravesites represent an irresistible professional challenge to Daniel and Lauren.
Who were these women? What do they tell us about ancient beliefs, culture, and even migration patterns? The answers might be too incredible to believe.
Slowly Daniel and Lauren's research reveals a remarkable line of shamanic women bound by an ancient promise to wait, watch, and remember. It is a tale filled with passion, sacrifice, love, and loss. It is the tale of an ancient civilizations rise and fall. It is the tale of the women who shaped the development of the city of Cahokia.
The novel explores the growth of the mound city of Cahokia, an actual archaeological site along the Mississippi River. Circa A.D. 1200, Cahokia reached the pinnacle of its power and prestige. With a population of approximately 20,000 it was at the time larger than Paris, and no other North American city reached its equivalent size until 1800. At is zeneth, Cahokia was a major political and religious center for the Native American Mississippian Culture. Situated near its center stood a massive truncated pyramid, covering more than 14 acres, which rose in four terraces to a height of 100 feet. Archaeologists calculate that the mound contains 22 million cubic feet of dirt making it the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the Western Hemisphere. Cahokia is a city of superlatives: Largest earthen structures, largest population, widest territorial influence, and unfortunately, among its graves are the largest number of human sacrifices north of Mexico. The novel, Witches of Cahokia, is a sequel to the archaeological fiction, Flight of the Piasa, which examines the creation of the enigmatic Piasa Bird pictograph overlooking the Mississippi River near Cahokia in Alton, IL.
As Daniel and Lauren unravel the mystery, they're on the cusp of an incredible discovery that will change our archaeological knowledge forever. Spanning the continents and the ages, Witches of Cahokia is a thought-provoking novel that will keep you guessing right up to the shocking conclusion.
Posted July 27, 2014
Witches of Cahokia is a direct sequel to his Flight of the Piasa, although it can be read without having first read the prior book.
As with Flight … it tells two stories – Snow Pine and her descendants living amongst what will become the Cahokian Mound people of the Mississippi River north of what is now St. Louis; and archaeology professor Daniel French, his (now) wife Lauren and his mentor, Dr Fred Eldridge.
Unlike Flight, the story of the ancient cast is told as a narrative – not as an epistolary last will and testament. In Flight the majority of the book favors the ancient cast’s story. Witches is more balanced between the two stories – leaning more heavily on the ancient cast especially in the first half of the book and then on the modern cast in the last half of the book – particularly as one plot winds down and the other picks up.
The story of Snow Pine and her descendants begin exactly (is it too much of a pun to say “literally”?) where Flight leaves off – with the death of her husband Sun Kai in the cave complex near present-day Alton.
We learn Snow Pine’s side of the story during Sun’s search for her in Flight: how she was taken captive and sold to the Trading People, married Beaver Lodge, befriended his head wife Fawn Heart, and otherwise became part of the village due to her amazing healing techniques. She had a child with Beaver Lodge and called her Ming.
She is eventually ostracized because she helped heal members of the Osage tribes who were at war with the Trading People. She went to live in the valleys and caves near Sun Kai’s grave and the Piasa painting on the cliffs of the Mississippi River. She is considered a witch as her legend grows and is left alone by all sides of the conflict.
She continues to heal anyone who asks – friend or foe. This includes a young Osage warrior, Young Wolf, who falls in love with Ming (this takes place over several years). His mother, Buffalo Woman, joins Snow Pine and they and other Trading People and Osage women form a society called the Daughters of White Buffalo Calf Woman.
They heal; they watch the migration of tribes and buffalo and report it to Snow Pine. She advises them to tell their hunters where the buffalo are migrating. In exchange, the Daughters look for any strangers during their travels that look like her. She is convinced her people will come for her and Sun – just as Sun predicted on his deathbed. Eventually all this information is written on joined pieces of buffalo hide.
The Daughters meet every year at the winter solstice; every year they repaint the Piasa bird.
But time ends all things – Snow Pine passes her leadership of the Daughters to Ming, who passes it to her daughter Cassie (named after Snow Pine’s ancient ancestor Cassandra). Cassie then gives the leadership role to Fawn Heart’s great-granddaughter Raven.
Raven has a vision to go south to gather a crop of golden kernels, later called mahiz, that will sustain her people. She, her brother Wildcat and others head to (I assume) Mexico to gather maize. On the way they meet people both friendly and hostile. They rescue two children, a girl Mala and a boy He Looks Up, who were about to be sacrificed to the southern tribes’ god. Mala and He Looks Up are raised by the Trading People. He Looks Up brings his religion with him and it eventually takes over the Trading People’s lifestyle, changing it forever.
This part of the story is one of the more shocking and unexpected plot twists and I will say no more for fear of spoiling a splendid turn in the tale.
Note all this would still be in the “BCs” – Emperor Chin’in, a contemporary of Snow Pine and the reason she ended up with the Trading People, died in 210 BC; so three or four generations after that would still put us before the birth of Christ.
A few chapters later, after we visit the storyline of the modern cast, we meet Forest Water and her daughter Timid Girl. A strange visitor comes to the town. Could these be the strangers foretold by Snow Pine? Forest Water invites the stranger to her valley home. He rapes her. He is a Viking named Thornfield Skullsplitter. As she gets her revenge Forest Water is grateful that he is not of Snow Pine’s people.
Some chapters later we meet Zhu Wen. He sails the world under the orders of Zheng He, an admiral during the Ming dynasty who sailed to east Africa and, some argue, landed on American shores. In Witches, Zhu Wen sails up the Mississippi River until he gets to the deserted mound city of Cahokia.
Zheng He died in 1433, around the time of the end of the Cahokian Mound culture – the author did an excellent melding these facts together.
He sees the Piasa and is shocked to spot a dragon from his own culture painted on a cliff face on the other side of the world. The White Buffalo Calf Woman named She Who Remembers spots his ship and knows Snow Pine’s people have finally returned as prophesied. She gives Zheng He Sun Kai’s journal and the buffalo hide of her coven, with fourteen hundred years of information. This finally answers a thread left from Flight – what happened to Sun’s journal and how did it get back to China?
“Meanwhile” Daniel French’s story picks up ten years after the end of Flight – Daniel and Lauren are now married and have children. Both Daniel and Lauren are professors of archeology at SIU-Edwardsville, supervised by their former professor Fred Eldridge.
Road construction unveils a pair of female skeletons from ancient times. Construction halts until the skeletons are examined. Eldridge sends Mr. & Mrs. French along with assistants Josh Green & Jenn Rauch. Unfortunately these two lovers have just joined the Creative Artifacts Society – an anarchic group of Luddites who bury false evidence at such construction and archeology sites to halt the destructive advance of society.
The author makes no bones about the CSA’s villainy; their leader is a charmless terrorist who disappears quickly. I wonder if he will appear in the third book. Josh and Jenn plant an anachronistic buffalo hide amongst the finding at the construction site and the Frenchs and their friend, Jared Davidson, investigate. When they get too close, Josh and Jenn frame Jared for an attempted rape as their distraction. Eldridge must deal with the accusation and not only its affect on Davidson but on the department. Josh makes things more difficult by staging protests demanding Davidson’s removal from the university.
More time is spent with Eldridge in this book – we meet his wife and learn a bit of his background – and we see more of him than the cynical curmudgeon from Flight. He still lectures and suffers no fools, but especially at the end, we see his love for his trade. You can hear the giddiness in his voice during his phone call to Daniel at the end of the book. He goes to China at their invitation to examine a strange Buffalo hide the government has been keeping for quite some time…
This presumably sets of the third book, but without doing it as a cliff-hanger. If the story ended here, the reader would be satisfied.
END OF SPOILERS
There is foreshadowing of the next book, but it does not end in a cliffhanger. It ends the way stories end in life – some threads end (the CSA’s framing of Dr. Davidson, but not without consequences to Davidson, Josh or Jenn) and other threads begin (the Illini Confederation’s restraining order to stop any further investigation of the bodies found). I assume all these threads will be picked up and explored in the third book.
Time was handled well - eventually, although as a reader it was frustrating at times. The readers kn
Posted February 13, 2012
A witch is someone with magical powers. Sometimes, the most magical power is the power of knowledge. Snow Pine is called a witch because she has extensive knowledge of plants and how they can be used to heal. She’s a foreigner and a strong woman who doesn’t fit into the society of the Trading People. Sure she can predict the movements of the buffalo and heal the sick and wounded, but the only power she uses is knowledge. “Witches of Cahokia” is the story of Snow Pine and the women she shares her knowledge with, but it’s also the story of the archeologists who discover the remains of the long line of women who followed in Snow Pine’s footsteps. Daniel and Lauren French are the archeologists in charge of the dig. Not only does the head of their department not believe their theories about the findings but they also have a student-anarchist group trying to sabotage the dig. Raymond Scott Edge weaves the stories of the past and the present together to give the reader a delightful experience. He shows the dig and the thought process behind the theories as well as the story of what really happened to Snow Pine and the Sisterhood. It’s a story rich with Native American culture and stories. It’s a story that will captivate readers and have them rooting for the characters to overcome the hardships put before them. I truly enjoyed reading this book. I especially enjoyed reading the Native American stories. Even though there are two stories with separate plots, both are fully developed and the characters in each are interesting and dynamic. I would recommend this book for high school and up, especially for anyone interested in history or Native American culture.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2010
The book "Witches of Cahokia" by Raymond Scott Edge is really 2 books in one, as it alternates between the stories of Snow Pine and the Sisterhood during ancient times, and the 21st century discovery of skeletal remains at a construction site in Alton, Illinois. The author shows his writing skill by fully developing both stories and making sure both are complete by the end of the book without rushing through the ending to tie things up.
Daniel and Lauren French are professors and researchers at the same Illinois school they attended for their graduate studies in Archeology. Now married, they share a passion for their work and are excited by the discovery of female skeletal remains in their hometown. As they prepare the site for excavation we, the reader, are introduced to Snow Pine, a foreign woman in a new land who just doesn't quite fit in with the natives she now lives among. Eventually she strikes out on her own, moving to a nearby cave, and begins to teach the local woman about her heritage of healing herbs which brings the women together forming a Sisterhood that will last generations.
I really enjoyed this book and how the author was able to weave the two stories together in a way that kept me interested until the very end. I also appreciated the factual incorporation of the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois as it brought an air of authenticity to the novel that made the story even more exciting to read.
This book is beautifully written with well-developed and engaging characters that had me rooting for their successes and tearing up over their failures. I highly recommend this book to those interested in Native American culture and archeology as well as those who enjoy a well-written book with compelling characters and hope the author continues to write as he definitely has a talent for it.
Posted January 16, 2010
We have all heard there are two sides to every story. In the book Witches of Cahokia the reader alternates from early Native America life to a modern day Archeological study of the same area. Snow Pine, a foreign woman in an Early Native American culture fights to save a people she has grown to love. Using her knowledge of herbal remedies and desire to keep the tribes from destroying themselves she begins one her missions. Daniel and Lauren French local Archaeologists, fight to preserve Snow Pines' home and historical evidence from being contaminated and ultimately destroyed.
I enjoy both Native American cultures and Archeology so reading this book was a double treat! Native American people have such a mystery about their lives and practices. They also have such a great respect for the earth and all her inhabitants. I love how most of them call people (other than their enemies) friend or a family term. Being an animal lover any culture that holds animals in high esteem are my kind of people.
As I mentioned before I also enjoy the study of Archeology. Science and history have always been of great interest to me. Uncovering new information on ancient societies gives us a better understanding of our ancestors. The more we study older cultures the more we can realize we aren't that different. We want to protect our families, prosper and improve our knowledge of new technologies. First people from all around the world have given us a glimpse of their daily lives through artifacts and their remains.
This book is well written and easy to follow. It kept my interest throughout the entire work. Even though the book switches back and forth from ancient to modern times it is done with ease. I would have to give kudos to Raymond Edge for the ability to carry two stories each having a strong storyline.
I would recommend this book anyone who joins reading about ancient cultures. There are a few sections that we would not be appropriate for younger audiences. It would be acceptable for high school students to read. I would edit some chapters if I were to present to middle and elementary aged students. I feel that everyone would be enchanted by the story.
Posted January 13, 2010
now Pine is mourning the loss of her beloved husband Sun Kai. As the story, Witches of Cahokia opens, Snow Pine is building a wall in the cave where her husband's body rests, in the hope of hiding his remains from the outside world. Deeply in love with Sun Kai, Snow Pine is devastated. But her young son needs her so she decides to return to the "Village of the Trading People," where Beaver Lodge, her new husband, awaits her return.
Just as the reader starts to settle into the narrative of Snow Pine, the book fast forwards to present day Illinois, where Daniel French, along with his wife Lauren, teach archeology at Southern Illinois University. When a construction project discovers some Indian artifacts, Daniel and Lauren are called in to investigate and hopefully give the okay so that construction may continue. While Lauren examines the artifacts, Daniel takes their children for a walk and soon their young daughter Cassie finds a skeleton. Work is immediately halted and Daniel, Lauren, and a team from SIU begin setting up a dig site.
Witches of Cahokia is really two distinct stories wrapped up snuggly in one book. The life of Snow Pine and her descendants offers a fascinating look at early Native American culture. But pay close attention.Snow Pine talks about the far away land of Chin'in, and uses herbs/cures from Chin'in, while Snow Pine's features hint at a Mediterranean heritage. The peaceful people of the trading village are not sure what to make of Snow Pine. Is she a witch? Many villagers fear her but when they see how she cures the sick, fear is quickly replaced by trust.
When the Osage, a neighboring tribe attacks, the trading village retaliates. Soon there is a barrage of retaliatory attacks. Tired of the killing, Snow Pine organizes the 'Daughters of White Buffalo Calf Woman,' also known as the "Sisterhood." This group is made up of women from both tribes, all of whom are committed to peace. At the same time, Snow Pine passes on the tradition of 'she who remembers' to her daughter. One day the far away people will return and one woman must be ready to welcome the travelers. The reader follows the group through many generations with all of their trials and triumphs.
Meanwhile, the group at SIU continues researching the dig site. When artifacts from the school's collection go missing, and an artifact is found at the dig site that doesn't seem to fit, several faculty wonder if a local chapter of CAS (Creative Artifacts Society) might be involved. The CAS steal and plant artifacts all over the world to lead researchers astray in the hopes of stopping "materialistic progress."
The Witches of Cahokia effectively switches between each story, keeping the reader guessing. The reader will be rooting for Daniel and Lauren, hoping they discover the meaning behind the mass burials, why there are so many female skeletons buried neatly in several rows, and just what happened so many centuries ago. The catch is, the reader is learning along with the archeologists, guessing at each clue because the story of Snow Pine and her descendants is given in snippets between chapters detailing the 21st century dig. You'll need to stay tuned right to the very end to discover the truth (and also to see what happens to those sneaky CAS people).
Quill says: Learn a little about archeology while unwrapping the mysterious story of Snow Pine and her descendants.