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The Urban American Indian Collective- FIND YOUR TRIBE!

Mississippian Indian Culture-The Greatest & Largest in Northern America


Photo via the University of Tennessee Knoxville Frank H. McClung Museum-


Mississippian culture, the last major prehistoric cultural development in North America, lasting from about 700 ce to the time of the arrival of the first European explorers. It spread over a great area of the Southeast and the mid-continent, in the river valleys of what are now the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, with scattered extensions northward into Wisconsin and Minnesota and westward into the Great Plains. It was the largest culture in what is now known as the United States. The culture was based on intensive cultivation of corn (maize), beans, squash, and other crops, which resulted in large concentrations of population in towns along riverine bottom-lands. Politically and culturally each large town or village dominated a satellite of lesser villages; government was in the hands of priest-rulers. Thus the complexes might be called theocratic village-states. Moreover, warfare, which was apparently frequent, produced larger alliances and even confederacies.It was known for building large, earthen platform mounds, and often other shaped mounds as well.



Monks Mound, Cahokia State Historic Site, Illinois

Monks Mound, the largest man-made earthen structure in North America, is part of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, near Cahokia and Collinsville, Illinois, U.S. Monks Mound covers some 15 acres (6 hectares) and is approximately 100 feet (30 metres) high; it dwarfs the automobile visible on the road in this photograph.

Courtesy of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site


Three examples of Mississippian culture avian themed repoussé copper plates. The righthand figure is one of the Spiro plates from Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. The left hand figure is Wulfing plate A, one of Wulfing cache from Malden, Missouri. The middle plate is Rogan plate 1, from Etowah Mounds in Georgia. Examples of this type of artwork have been found as artifacts in many states throughout the Midwest and Southeast.



A diorama of the Bird Man found in Mound 72 at Cahokia, a ridge-top burial mound south of Monk's Mound. Archaeologists found the remains of a man in his 40s who was probably an important Cahokian ruler. The man was buried on a bed of more than 20,000 marine-shell disc beads arranged in the shape of a falcon. The "Birdman.


Notice the dark brown color which has faded due to time, Stone effigies found at the Etowah site in Georgia.






Scholars have studied the records of Hernando de Soto's expedition of 1539–1543 to learn of his contacts with Mississippians, as he traveled through their villages of the Southeast. He visited many villages, in some cases staying for a month or longer. The list of sites and peoples visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition chronicles those villages. Some encounters were violent, while others were relatively peaceful. In some cases, de Soto seems to have been used as a tool or ally in long-standing native feuds. In one example, de Soto negotiated a truce between the Pacaha and the Casqui.


De Soto's later encounters left about half of the Spaniards and perhaps many hundreds of Native Americans dead. The chronicles of de Soto are among the first documents written about Mississippian peoples and are an invaluable source of information on their cultural practices. The chronicles of the Narváez expedition were written before the de Soto expedition; the Narváez expedition informed the Court of de Soto about the New World.


After the destruction and flight of the de Soto expedition, the Mississippian peoples continued their way of life with little direct European influence. Indirectly, however, European introductions dramatically changed these native societies. Because the natives lacked immunity to infectious diseases unknowingly carried by the Europeans, such as measles and smallpox, epidemics caused so many fatalities that they undermined the social order of many chiefdoms. Some groups adopted European horses and changed to nomadism. Political structures collapsed in many places.


At Joara, near Morganton, North Carolina, Native Americans of the Mississippian culture interacted with Spanish colonizers of the Juan Pardo expedition, who built a base there in 1567 called Fort San Juan. Expedition documentation and archaeological evidence of the fort and Native American culture both exist. The soldiers were at the fort about 18 months (1567–1568) before the natives killed them and destroyed the fort. (They killed soldiers stationed at five other forts as well; only one man of 120 survived.) Sixteenth-century Spanish artifacts have been recovered from the site, marking the first European colonization in the interior of what became the United States.


By the time more documentary accounts were being written, the Mississippian way of life had changed irrevocably. Some groups maintained an oral tradition link to their mound-building past, such as the late 19th-century Cherokee. Other Native American groups, having migrated many hundreds of miles and lost their elders to diseases, did not know their ancestors had built the mounds dotting the landscape. This contributed to the myth of the Mound Builders as a people distinct from Native Americans, which was rigorously debunked by Cyrus Thomas in 1894. :



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