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Mississippian Mortuary Practices

Beyond Hierarchy and the Representationist Perspective

Edited by Lynne P. Sullivan and Robert C. Mainfort Jr.

Publication Year: 2010

The residents of Mississippian towns principally located in the southeastern and midwestern United States from 900 to1500 A.D. made many beautiful objects, which included elaborate and well-crafted copper and shell ornaments, pottery vessels, and stonework. Some of these objects were socially valued goods and often were placed in ritual context, such as graves.

The funerary context of these artifacts has sparked considerable study and debate among archaeologists, raising questions about the place in society of the individuals interred with such items, as well as the nature of the societies in which these people lived.

By focusing on how mortuary practices serve as symbols of beliefs and values for the living, the contributors to Mississippian Mortuary Practices explore how burial of the dead reflects and reinforces the cosmology of specific cultures, the status of living participants in the burial ceremony, ongoing kin relationships, and other aspects of social organization.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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pp. v-vi

List of Figures

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pp. vii-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

The mortuary practices of the Mississippi Period have been instrumental in inspiring archaeological interpretations of late prehistoric cultures in the southeastern and midwestern United States. The well-crafted artwork often interred with individuals of this time period and other evidence of complex societies, ...

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1. Mississippian Mortuary Practices and the Quest for Interpretation

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pp. 1-13

Mississippian Period (ca. A.D. 900–1500) native peoples in the southeastern and midwestern United States are known for towns that typically include platform mounds and plazas and for elaborate and well-crafted copper and shell ornaments, pottery vessels, and stonework. Some of these objects were socially valued goods ...

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2. The Missing Persons in Mississippian Mortuaries

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pp. 14-29

Mortuary studies in archaeology frequently focus on inferring the function or meaning of some burial program in society. The results, I believe, are often inconclusive or deceptive, since the procedure typically involves assuming that a single purpose, meaning, or mortuary program resulted in the material remains excavated. ...

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3. Cosmological Layouts of Secondary Burials as Political Instruments

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pp. 30-53

Secondary burials offer a fertile field for research that has barely been tapped. The very diversity of secondary burial treatments allow us cultural insights that offer surprising rewards when coupled with fresh analytical perspectives. When we reflect on the deep and myriad cultural connections that bones have ...

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4. Multiple Groups, Overlapping Symbols, and the Creation of a Sacred Space at Etowah’s Mound C

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pp. 54-73

There is a long tradition in the in the scholarship on the Southeast to interpret mortuary treatment as a way to understand ranking systems and the social status of individuals. This tradition is based on the presumption of a direct relationship between investment in mortuary treatment and social status ...

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5. Social and Spatial Dimensions of Moundville Mortuary Practices

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pp. 74-89

Moundville has an impressive mortuary data set with a long history of related investigations. Previous mortuary studies, however, have not focused on individual burial clusters as socially and spatially relevant units of analysis. Here we address this issue by documenting and interpreting the size, arrangement, ...

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6. Aztalan Mortuary Practices Revisited

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pp. 90-112

The Aztalan site (47JE1) sits on the banks of the Crawfish River in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, between the modern cities of Milwaukee and Madison (see Figure 6.1). The site has been protected as a state park for more than 50 years. While several occupations have been discovered at this multicomponent site, ...

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7. Mississippian Dimensions of a Fort Ancient Mortuary Program: The Development of Authority and Spatial Grammar at SunWatch Village

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pp. 113-127

Interregional studies have long been hampered by essentialist categories, which are attributable in archaeology to cultural-historical frameworks designed for other purposes (Dunnell 1971; Essenpreis 1978; Hart and Brumbach 2003; Pauketat 2001b; Lyman and O’Brien 1998). Several researchers of Fort Ancient evolution ...

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8. Temporal Changes in Mortuary Behavior: Evidence from the Middle and Upper Nodena Sites, Arkansas

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pp. 128-144

Funerary rites are, of course, one sort of ritual. A key characteristic of rituals is that they are performed repeatedly within a time-honored structure. The performance of rituals as prescribed by tradition essentially constitutes an acknowledgment of the authority of the respected ancestors who passed down ...

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9. The Materialization of Status and Social Structure at Koger’s Island Cemetery, Alabama

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pp. 145-173

The explanatory frameworks used to interpret the mortuary practices of Mississippian societies have undergone a significant amount of change within the last 35 years. Early mortuary studies of these societies relied heavily on the socio-evolutionary typologies of the late 1960s and early 1970s (Fried 1967; Service 1962) ...

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10. Pecan Point as the “Capital” of Pacaha: A Mortuary Perspective

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pp. 174-194

Many years ago, the Pecan Point site attained near-legendary status among professional and avocational archaeologists. It is not the size of the site or its mounds (both of which are poorly documented) that made Pecan Point of such interest but rather the large collections of mortuary ceramics from the site. ...

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11. Mound Construction and Community Changes within the Mississippian Community at Town Creek

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pp. 195-233

The Mississippian Period was a time of significant political and social change within the native communities of the southeastern United States (Griffin 1985: 63; Smith 1986b: 56–63; Steponaitis 1986: 388–391). Political changes within Mississippian societies included increases in power and authority for community leaders ...

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12. Mortuary Practices and Cultural Identity at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century in Eastern Tennessee

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pp. 234-249

Culturally ascribed identity groups “are based on the expression of a real or assumed shared culture and common descent” (Jones 1997: 84). Cultural identity can be correlated with suites of cultural practices or traditions, especially those related to ritual and symbolic practices (Beck 1995), and those that differentiate ...

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13. The Mortuary Assemblage from the Holliston Mills Site, a Mississippian Town in Upper East Tennessee

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pp. 250-269

After extensive archaeological investigations at Phipps Bend on the Holston River in upper East Tennessee, Lafferty (1981: 520) concluded that “the Mississippian occupation appears to be quite unintense.” The Mississippian Period in the area was characterized by small, scattered settlements with no evidence for corn agriculture. ...

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14. Caves as Mortuary Contexts in the Southeast

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pp. 270-292

From early in the history of European settlement in the Southeast, it was observed that the region’s caves and karsts were used by the ancients as places for interring the dead. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, discoveries in the deep caves of Tennessee and Kentucky caught the imagination of the American intelligentsia, ...

References Cited

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pp. 293-340


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pp. 341-344


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pp. 345-348

E-ISBN-13: 9780813042985
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813034263
Print-ISBN-10: 0813034264

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 93 b&w illustrations, 45 tables
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 801846113
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mississippian Mortuary Practices

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mississippian culture -- Southern States.
  • Mississippian culture -- Middle West.
  • Claflin-Emerson Expedition -- Funeral customs and rites -- Southern States -- History.
  • Indians of North America -- Funeral customs and rites -- Middle West -- History.
  • Social archaeology -- Southern States.
  • Social archaeology -- Middle West.
  • Indians of North America -- Southern States -- Antiquities.
  • Indians of North America -- Middle West -- Antiquities.
  • Southern States -- Antiquities.
  • Middle West -- Antiquities.
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