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Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms

Interpretations of Mississippian Iconography

Edited by F. Kent Reilly, III, and James F. Garber

Publication Year: 2007

A major reconstruction of the rituals, cosmology, ideology, and political structures of the prehistoric native peoples of the Mississippi River Valley and Southeastern United States.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

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 ‘‘Southern Cult.’’ The studies presented in these pages sketch out a new paradigm for understanding this imagery, a paradigm...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-7

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 ...

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2. Some Cosmological Motifs in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex

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pp. 8-38

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...

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3. The Petaloid Motif: A Celestial Symbolic Locative in the Shell Art of Spiro

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pp. 39-55

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...

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4. On the Identity of the Birdman within Mississippian Period Art and Iconography

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pp. 56-106

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 ...

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5. The Great Serpent in Eastern North America

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pp. 107-135

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 ...

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6. Identification of a Moth/Butterfly Supernatural in Mississippian Art

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pp. 136-151

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)....

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7. Ritual, Medicine, and the War Trophy Iconographic Theme in the Mississippian Southeast

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pp. 152-173

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...

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8. The ‘‘Path of Souls’’: Some Death Imagery in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex

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pp. 174-212

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. TheMoundville 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...

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9. Sequencing the Braden Style within Mississippian Period Art and Iconography

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pp. 213-245

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, ...

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10. Osage Texts and Cahokia Data

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pp. 246-262

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 ...


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pp. 263-282


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pp. 283-299

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795433
E-ISBN-10: 0292795432
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292713475
Print-ISBN-10: 0292713479

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos, 68 line drawings
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies