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Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms

Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms

F. Kent Reilly
James F. Garber
Foreword by Vincas P. Steponaitis
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms
    Book Description:

    Between AD 900-1600, the native peoples of the Mississippi River Valley and other areas of the Eastern Woodlands of the United States conceived and executed one of the greatest artistic traditions of the Precolumbian Americas. Created in the media of copper, shell, stone, clay, and wood, and incised or carved with a complex set of symbols and motifs, this seven-hundred-year-old artistic tradition functioned within a multiethnic landscape centered on communities dominated by earthen mounds and plazas. Previous researchers have referred to this material as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC).

    This groundbreaking volume brings together ten essays by leading anthropologists, archaeologists, and art historians, who analyze the iconography of Mississippian art in order to reconstruct the ritual activities, cosmological vision, and ideology of these ancient precursors to several groups of contemporary Native Americans. Significantly, the authors correlate archaeological, ethnographic, and art historical data that illustrate the stylistic differences within Mississippian art as well as the numerous changes that occur through time. The research also demonstrates the inadequacy of the SECC label, since Mississippian art is not limited to the Southeast and reflects stylistic changes over time among several linked but distinct religious traditions. The term Mississippian Iconographic Interaction Sphere (MIIS) more adequately describes the corpus of this Mississippian art. Most important, the authors illustrate the overarching nature of the ancient Native American religious system, as a creation unique to the native American cultures of the eastern United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79543-3
    Subjects: Archaeology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Vincas P. Steponaitis

    From time to time, a book appears that completely changes the landscape in a field of study. This is such a book. For more than sixty years, scholars have tried to make sense of the corpus of pre-Columbian art known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC) or “Southcrn Cult.” The studies presented in these pages sketch out a new paradigm for understanding this imagery, a paradigm that is based on rigorous methods and is deeply grounded in American Indian ethnography. The new interpretation that emerges sees these images not as depictions of “real-world” actors and rituals, but rather as representations...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)
    F. Kent Reilly and James F. Garber

    Between A.D. 900 and 1600, the native peoples of the Mississippi River Valley and other areas of the Eastern and Southeastern United States conceived and executed one of the greatest artistic traditions of pre-Columbian America. Many of the artistic and iconographic elements that make up this complex had originally been defined as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (Waring and Holder 1945). Objects of this complex were produced in the media of copper, shell, stone, clay, and almost certainly wood, although little of this material has survived in the soils of the eastern woodlands. Many of these ritual objects were incised or...

  6. 2. Some Cosmological Motifs in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex
    (pp. 8-38)
    George E. Lankford

    Similar prehistoric iconographic images on shell, copper, and ceramics have been found across a wide geographic area in the Eastern Woodlands and the Plains. Even if the area is reduced to its presumed major centers for diffusion, such as Spiro, Moundville, and Etowah/Tennessee Valley, it still seems certain that the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex was international in nature, encompassing groups speaking different languages and manifesting somewhat different cultural traditions. The sharing of a visual symbol system such as the SECC suggests the sharing of some sort of belief system which lies behind and is manifest in the iconography. Such a belief...

  7. 3. The Petaloid Motif: A Celestial Symbolic Locative in the Shell Art of Spiro
    (pp. 39-55)
    F. Kent Reilly III

    The Petaloid Motif is not listed separately in the “Glossary of Motifs” contained within Pre-Columbian Shell Engravings Vol. 1. The petaloid border is described as a common motif in Craig A and B style engravings (Phillips and Brown 1978). The petaloid derives its name from its resemblances to the vegetative petal-shaped leaves found on flowers. However, iconographic investigations of the art of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex illustrate that the “Petaloid Motif” is derived from feathers. The same investigations demonstrate that the Petaloid Motif could function symbolically as an event locator or locative. Specifically, a Petaloid placed around individuals, objects, or...

  8. 4. On the Identity of the Birdman within Mississippian Period Art and Iconography
    (pp. 56-106)
    James Brown

    The falcon is one of the more conspicuous images in Mississippian Period iconography, and in its incarnation as Birdman the theme has assumed prominence as a central theme in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC). Images of this bird have given rise to more interpretive interest than perhaps any other (e.g., Brown 1975, Emerson 1997, Strong 1989). However, the scope of that interest has remained limited to traits intrinsic to the living hawk. Missing is serious consideration of ideological associations independent of the bird’s biological or ecological attributes. It is these ideological associations that connect importantly with Mississippian Period political economy....

  9. 5. The Great Serpent in Eastern North America
    (pp. 107-135)
    George E. Lankford

    One of the more striking images from the iconographic collection known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex is the winged serpent (Fig. 5.1). The image takes several forms, but the U-shaped serpent with horns and peculiar wings was apparently particularly important at Moundville. In the only published inventory of Moundville ceramics, the winged serpent is the most numerous design (thirty-three examples), rivaled only by the hand and-eye design (thirty-one examples) (Steponaitis 1983). This preponderance is confirmed by another scholar from his own studies of Moundville ceramics (V.J. Knight, Jr., personal communication, 1996). Other examples of the same design have been found...

  10. 6. Identification of a Moth/Butterfly Supernatural in Mississippian Art
    (pp. 136-151)
    Vernon James Knight and Judith A. Franke

    Here we shall attempt an iconographic demonstration of the existence of a previously unrecognized supernatural in Mississippian art. The primary natural prototype of this supernatural is, we believe, a moth or butterfly. Further, we will build a case that this curious lepidopteran supernatural has a specifiable relationship to the much more widespread subject in these art systems known as “Birdman” (Strong 1989).

    While our point of entry into the corpus is to some degree arbitrary, we choose to begin, and end, our presentation with images from Moundville in west-central Alabama. Midway, we will range to the east and north to...

  11. 7. Ritual, Medicine, and the War Trophy Iconographic Theme in the Mississippian Southeast
    (pp. 152-173)
    David H. Dye

    The symbolic representation of distinctive human trophies plays a prominent role in Mississippian art. As a class of SECC icons they include skulls, fleshed heads, hands, and forearms, sometimes associated with weapon forms such as sociotechnic war clubs, typically found on ceramics.

    Trophy motifs are most commonly depicted on ceramic vessels from the Central Mississippi Valley and at Moundville. Much of this artistic activity on ceramic media is restricted to the Late Braden style of the fourteenth and perhaps early fifteenth century, but originates with earlier iconic portrayals of trophy–taking behavior found engraved on marine shell cups and copper...

  12. 8. The “Path of Souls”: Some Death Imagery in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex
    (pp. 174-212)
    George E. Lankford

    The multiple-mound site at Moundville, Alabama, has produced a large collection of whole ceramic vessels, many of which bear engraved designs which are part of the iconography of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. The Moundville appearances of the interregional distribution of SECC images are useful for analysis because they are part of a large local collection which has been well studied and can thus be quantified (Steponaitis 1983). An examination of the Moundville SECC imagery reveals five images that seem to be closely related—hand-and-eye, skull, bone, winged serpent, and raptor (Fig. 8.1).

    Of the five motifs, the winged serpent and...

  13. 9. Sequencing the Braden Style within Mississippian Period Art and Iconography
    (pp. 213-245)
    James Brown

    The history of iconographic analysis of Southeastern Ceremonial Complex subject matter can rightly be said to have started with Phil Phillips’s long-term study of the amazing collection of more than 1,000 engraved shell cups, gorgets, and unassignable fragments from the Craig Mound at Spiro. The size and scope of the collection lent themselves well to iconographic analysis, but equally important to the success of the project was Phillips’s resolve to study the way in which theme and motif were expressed in the cup and gorget media. He realized that before one could tackle iconographic issues one had to come to...

  14. 10. Osage Texts and Cahokia Data
    (pp. 246-262)
    Alice Beck Kehoe

    Cahokia has become an arena where proclaimed scientific evaluations of archaeological data meet more humanistic approaches, a contrast epitomized by George Milner’s The Cahokia Chiefdom(1998) and Robert L. Hall’s An Archaeology of the Soul(1997). Differences have been exacerbated in that most of the more recent, more detailed, and better-controlled data come from the highway mitigation project FAI-270, deliberately located in predicted less significant zones of the American Bottom. Having invested the major part of their professional lives in recovering and analyzing these data, FAI-270 archaeologists are understandably loath to minimize the contributions they might make to comprehending Cahokia; thus we...

  15. References
    (pp. 263-282)
  16. Index
    (pp. 283-299)