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Mississippian Towns and Sacred Spaces

Searching for an Architectural Grammar

Edited by R. Barry Lewis and Charles Stout, with contributions from Jon Muller,

Publication Year: 1998

Archaeologists and architects draw upon theoretical perspectives from their fields to provide valuable insights into the structure, development, and meaning of prehistoric communities.

Architecture is the most visible physical manifestation of human culture. The built environment envelops our lives and projects our distinctive regional and ethnic identities to the world around us. Archaeology and architecture find common theoretical ground in their perspectives of the homes, spaces, and communities that people create for themselves. Although archaeologists and architects may ask different questions and apply different methods, the results are the same—a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

In this volume, prominent archaeologists examine the architectural design spaces of Mississippian towns and mound centers of the eastern United States. The diverse Mississippian societies, which existed between A.D. 900 and 1700, created some of the largest and most complex Native American archaeological sites in the United States. The dominant architectural feature shared by these communities was one or more large plazas, each of which was often flanked by buildings set on platform mounds. The authors describe the major dimensions of an architectural grammar, centered on the design of the plaza and mound complex that was shared by different societies across the Mississippian world. They then explore these shared architectural features as physical representations or metaphors for Mississippian world views and culture.



Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi

Figures and Tables

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Between a.d. 900 and 1700, many prehistoric groups in the southeastern United States shared an agricultural economy based on maize, beans, squash, and other crops. Although they spoke many languages, these groups also shared symbols, decorative motifs, and styles that linked them archaeologically in the Mississippian cultural tradition. The centuries during which...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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1. The Design of Mississippian Towns

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pp. 1-21

Architecture is the most visible physical manifestation of human culture. As such, it encodes much information about a society—political organization, economy, subsistence, aesthetics, cosmology, and gender relations, to list only a few topics—and the limits of this information expand as we learn more about the dynamic relationships between people and their...

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2. Town Structure at the Edge of the Mississippian World

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pp. 22-48

At the far southeastern corner of the Mississippian world stands a classic Mississippian town (Figure 2.1). More than 800 kilometers from the towns of the Mississippi Valley and 600 kilometers from the geographic center of the Mississippian world, the Lake Jackson site nonetheless looks typically Mississippian. Pick it up and put it in north Georgia or western Tennessee or...

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3. The Nature of Mississippian Towns in Georgia: The King Site Example

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pp. 49-63

The King site (9FL5) is the most extensively excavated Mississippian town in Georgia. In this chapter, we describe the general features of its settlement plan with emphasis on domestic households and the variability evident in residential structures. The key to understanding the variability in these structures, we argue, lies in their role as symbols of household identity...

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4. Mississippian Towns in the Eastern Tennessee Valley

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pp. 64-92

Mississippian cultures appear around a.d. 900 in eastern Tennessee (Figure 4.1). As elsewhere in the Southeast, their sites are characterized by platform mounds, distinct and sometimes large village complexes, elaborate mortuary patterns, and evidence of intensive corn agriculture. In general, theMississippian archaeological record traces the development, maintenance,...

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5. Mississippian Sacred Landscapes: The View from Alabama

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pp. 93-122

Archaeologists have long recognized architecture as a potent cultural expression. Traditionally, archaeologists have turned to architecture for information on issues such as construction technologies, settlement patterns, social organization, and structure use. Although such studies provide valuable additions to our knowledge, most are incapable of fully assessing the...

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6. Mississippi Period Mound Groups and Communities in the Lower Mississippi Valley

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pp. 123-150

Archaeological summaries of the later prehistoric periods of the southeastern United States naturally tend to generalize about the organization of native American cultures. Based on a combination of ethnohistoric accounts (which tend to lump diachronic variation into synchronic unity) and spatially scattered archaeological data, a picture of the Mississippian town has...

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7. Mississippian Towns in Kentucky

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pp. 151-178

Much has been written about the spatial patterning of Mississippian towns and the chiefdoms that built them. Far less is known about other architectural aspects of these communities. Our purpose is to describe elements of a design grammar of Mississippian towns in Kentucky, to illustrate these observations with examples, and to interpret their cultural...

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8. Towns along the Lower Ohio

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pp. 179-199

The issue of continuity or discontinuity between historical and prehistoric societies has been a key question in eastern archaeology. Some facts about the early historical period are widely accepted: (1) population declined as a result of Old World disease, (2) European-sponsored trade, especially for pelts, had considerable economic impact on many groups, and...

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9. The Mississippian Town Plan and Cultural Landscape of Cahokia, Illinois

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pp. 200-226

Located in the American Bottom of the Mississippi River Valley (Figure9.1), Cahokia was a unique and monumental manifestation of a culture and community that existed from a.d. 800 to 1350 (Emergent Mississippi and Early Mississippi periods). The physical elements of the site, comprised of earthworks and landscape architecture, are human constructs that exemplify...

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10. The Town as Metaphor

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pp. 227-241

If there can be said to be any physical representation of Mississippian views of the cosmos, it is the town. At the macro level, it reflects the political organization, economy, and religious beliefs of Mississippian peoples. At the micro level, its archaeology is the primary means by which we reconstruct Mississippian household organization, kinship, gender relations, technology,...

References Cited

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pp. 243-291


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pp. 293-295


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pp. 297-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384685
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817309473

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 47009727
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mississippian Towns and Sacred Spaces

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Subject Headings

  • Mississippian culture.
  • Southern States -- Antiquities.
  • Mississippi River Valley -- Antiquities.
  • Mississippian architecture.
  • Indians of North America -- Urban residence -- Southern States.
  • Indians of North America -- Urban residence -- Mississippi River Valley.
  • Sacred space -- Southern States.
  • Sacred space -- Mississippi River Valley.
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