The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American civilization that flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 to 1600, varying regionally. It was composed of a series of urban settlements and satellite villages (suburbs) linked together by loose trading networks. The largest city was Cahokia, believed to be a major religious center.
The Mississippian way of life began to develop in the Mississippi River Valley (for which it is named). Cultures in the tributary Tennessee River Valley may have also begun to develop Mississippian characteristics at this point. Almost all dated Mississippian sites predate 1539–1540 (when Hernando de Soto explored the area), with notable exceptions being Natchez communities that maintained Mississippian cultural practices into the 18th century.
A number of cultural traits are recognized as being characteristic of the Mississippians. Although not all Mississippian peoples practiced all of the following activities, they were distinct from their ancestors in the adoption of some or all of these traits.
The Mississippians had no writing system or stone architecture. They worked naturally occurring metal deposits, such as hammering and annealing copper for ritual objects such as Mississippian copper plates and other decorations, but did not smelt iron or practice bronze metallurgy.
The Mississippi stage is usually divided into three or more chronological periods. Each period is an arbitrary historical distinction varying regionally. At a particular site, each period may be considered to begin earlier or later, depending on the speed of adoption or development of given Mississippian traits. The "Mississippi period" should not be confused with the "Mississippian culture". The Mississippi period is the chronological stage, while Mississippian culture refers to the cultural similarities that characterize this society.
The term Middle Mississippian is also used to describe the core of the classic Mississippian culture area. This area covers the central Mississippi River Valley, the lower Ohio River Valley, and most of the Mid-South area, including western and central Kentucky, western Tennessee, and northern Alabama and Mississippi. Sites in this area often contain large ceremonial platform mounds, residential complexes and are often encircled by earthen ditches and ramparts or palisades.
Middle Mississippian cultures, especially the Cahokia polity located near East St. Louis, Illinois, was very influential on neighboring societies. High-status artifacts, including stone statuary and elite pottery associated with Cahokia, have been found far outside of the Middle Mississippian area. These items, especially the pottery, were also copied by local artists.
The term South Appalachian Province was originally used by W. H. Holmes in 1903 to describe a regional ceramic style in the southeast involving surface decorations applied with a carved wooden paddle. By the late 1960s, archaeological investigations had shown the similarity of the culture that produced the pottery and the midwestern Mississippian pattern defined in 1937 by the Midwestern Taxonomic System.
In 1967 James B. Griffin coined 'South Appalachian Mississippian' to describe the evolving understanding of the peoples of the Southeast. South Appalachian Mississippian area sites are distributed across a contiguous area including Alabama, Georgia, northern Florida, South Carolina, central and western North Carolina, and Tennessee. Chronologically this area became influenced by Mississippian culture later than the Middle Mississippian area (about 1000 CE as compared to 800 CE) to its northwest. It is believed that the peoples of this area adopted Mississippian traits from their northwestern neighbors.
Typical settlements were located on riverine floodplains and included villages with defensive palisades enclosing platform mounds and residential areas. Etowah and Ocmulgee are prominent examples of the South Appalachian Mississippian settlements.
The Caddoan Mississippian area, a regional variant of the Mississippian culture, covered a large territory, including what is now eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, northeastern Texas, and northwestern Louisiana. Archaeological evidence has led to a scholarly consensus that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present, and that the Caddo and related Caddo language speakers in prehistoric times and at first European contact are the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.
The climate in this area was drier than areas in the eastern woodlands, hindering maize production, and the lower population on the plains to the west may have meant fewer neighboring competing chiefdoms to contend with. Major sites such as Spiro and the Battle Mound Site are in the Arkansas River and Red River Valleys, the largest and most fertile of the waterways in the Caddoan region, where maize agriculture would have been the most productive. The sites generally lacked wooden palisade fortifications often found in the major Middle Mississippian towns. Living on the western edge of the Mississippian world, the Caddoans may have faced fewer military threats from their neighbors. Their societies may also have had a somewhat lower level of social stratification.
The Caddoan people were speakers of one of the many Caddoan languages. The Caddoan languages once had a broad geographic distribution, but many are now extinct. The modern languages in the Caddoan family include Caddo and Pawnee, now spoken mainly by elderly people.
Hernando de Soto led an expedition into the area in the early 1540s, he encountered several native groups now thought to have been Caddoan. Composed of many tribes, the Caddo were organized into three confederacies, the Hasinai, Kadohadacho, and Natchitoches, which were all linked by their similar languages.
The Plaquemine culture was an archaeological culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana. Good examples of this culture are the Medora Site (the type site for the culture and period) in West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, and the Anna, Emerald Mound, Winterville and Holly Bluff sites located in Mississippi. Plaquemine culture was contemporaneous with the Middle Mississippian culture at the Cahokia site near St. Louis, Missouri. It is considered ancestral to the Natchez and Taensa Peoples.
Although the Mississippian culture was heavily disrupted before a complete understanding of the political landscape was written down, many Mississippian political bodies were documented and others have been discovered by research.
Mississippian peoples were almost certainly ancestral to the majority of the American Indian nations living in this region in the historic era. The historic and modern day American Indian nations believed to have descended from the overarching Mississippian Culture include: the Alabama, Apalachee, Caddo, Chickasaw, Catawba, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, Guale, Hitchiti, Houma, Kansa, Missouria, Mobilian, Natchez, Osage, Quapaw, Seminole, Tunica-Biloxi, Yamasee, and Yuchi.
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 peaceable. 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 native societies in the Eastern United States. Because the natives lacked immunity to new infectious diseases, 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.
The Battle Mound Site (3LA1) is an archaeological site in Lafayette County, Arkansas in the Great Bend region of the Red River basin. The majority of the mound was built from 1200-1400 CE. The site has the largest mound of the Caddoan Mississippian culture (a regional variation of the Mississippian culture). It measures approximately 670 feet (200 m) in length, 320 feet (98 m) wide, and 34 feet (10 m) in height.Four low rises at the site are believed also to have been constructed earthwork mounds. Many burial grounds, occupation areas, and other mound sites in the area may be connected with this site. Minor investigations were conducted at the site by Dr. Alex D. Krieger of the University of Texas at Austin and his assistant Mr. Lynn E. Howard, between June 25 and September 11, 1948. The field notes and a full analysis of the excavation have not been published. In recent years archaeologist Duncan P. McKinnon has been conducting research at the site using archaeogeophysical means.Bell Field Mound Site
Bell Field Mound Site (9 MU 101) is an archaeological site located on the western bank of the Coosawattee River below the Coosawatee’s junction with Talking Rock Creek. The site itself was destroyed by the construction of Carters Dam in the 1970s. With respect to the dam itself, Bell Field was located in front of the high dam along with the Sixtoe Mound and Little Egypt sites.Brentwood Library Site
The Brentwood Library Site (40 WM 210), also known as the Jarman Farm Site, is a Mississippian culture archaeological site located in the city of Brentwood, in Williamson County, Tennessee. It was occupied during the Thurston Phase of the local chronology and artifacts from the site have been radiocarbon dated to 1298 to 1465 CE.Caddoan Mississippian culture
The Caddoan Mississippian culture was a prehistoric Native American culture considered by archaeologists as a variant of the Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Northeast Texas, and Northwest Louisiana. Archaeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present; that the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma included the speakers of the Caddo and related Caddo language in prehistoric times and at first European contact, is unquestioned today.Gahagan Mounds Site
The Gahagan Mounds Site (16RR1) is an Early Caddoan Mississippian culture archaeological site in Red River Parish, Louisiana. It is located in the Red River Valley. The site is famous for the three shaft burials and exotic grave goods excavated there in the early twentieth century.Jere Shine Site
The Jere Shine Site (1MT6) is an archaeological site near the confluence of the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers in modern Montgomery County, Alabama. Based on comparison of archeological remains and pottery styles, scholars believe that it was most likely occupied from 1400–1550 CE by people of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture (a regional variation of the Mississippian culture). In addition to its Mississippian-era Shine I-phase, it is the largest settlement associated with the Shine II-phase of the lower Tallapoosa River. The 35-acre (14.2 ha) site contains five platform mounds and numerous shell middens. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 8, 1978.Ka-Do-Ha Indian Village
Ka-Do-Ha Indian Village is a tourist attraction near Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The site may be a Late Caddo settlement, but has never been professionally excavated.Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site
The Kincaid Mounds Historic Site (11MX2-11; 11PO2-10) c. 1050–1400 CE, is the site of a city from the prehistoric Mississippian culture. One of the largest settlements of the Mississippian culture, it was located at the southern tip of present-day U.S. state of Illinois. Kincaid Mounds has been notable for both its significant role in native North American prehistory and for the central role the site has played in the development of modern archaeological techniques. The site had at least 11 substructure platform mounds (ranking fifth for mound-culture pyramids). Artifacts from the settlement link its major habitation and the construction of the mounds to the Mississippian period, but it was also occupied earlier during the Woodland period.List of sites and peoples visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition
This is a list of sites and peoples visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in the years 1539–1543. In May 1539, de Soto left Havana, Cuba, with nine ships, over 620 men and 220 surviving horses and landed at Charlotte Harbor, Florida. This began his three-year odyssey through the Southeastern North American continent, from which de Soto and a large portion of his men would not return. They met many varied Native American groups, most of them bands and chiefdoms related to the widespread Mississippian culture. Only a few of these cultures survived into the seventeenth century. Others have been recorded only in the written historical accounts of de Soto's expedition.Mill Creek chert
Mill Creek chert is a type of chert found in Southern Illinois and heavily exploited by members of the Mississippian culture (800 to 1600 CE). Artifacts made from this material are found in archaeological sites throughout the American Midwest and Southeast. It is named for a village and stream near the quarries, Mill Creek, Illinois and Mill Creek, a tributary of the Cache River. The chert was used extensively for the production of utilitarian tools such as hoes and spades, and for polished ceremonial objects such as bifaces, spatulate celts and maces.Moundville Archaeological Site
Moundville Archaeological Site, also known as the Moundville Archaeological Park, is a Mississippian culture site on the Black Warrior River in Hale County, near the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Extensive archaeological investigation has shown that the site was the political and ceremonial center of a regionally organized Mississippian culture chiefdom polity between the 11th and 16th centuries. The archaeological park portion of the site is administered by the University of Alabama Museums and encompasses 185 acres (75 ha), consisting of 29 platform mounds around a rectangular plaza.The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.Moundville is the second-largest site in the United States of the classic Middle Mississippian era, after Cahokia in Illinois. The culture was expressed in villages and chiefdoms throughout the central Mississippi River Valley, the lower Ohio River Valley, and most of the Mid-South area, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi as the core of the classic Mississippian culture area. The park contains a museum and an archaeological laboratory.Old Town (Franklin, Tennessee)
For the house also known as Old Town, see Thomas Brown House (Franklin, Tennessee)Old Town is an archaeological site in Williamson County, Tennessee near Franklin. The site includes the remnants of a Native American village and mound complex of the Mississippian culture, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as Old Town Archaeological Site (40WM2).Oneota
Oneota is a designation archaeologists use to refer to a cultural complex that existed in the eastern plains and Great Lakes area of what is now the United States from around AD 900 to around 1650 or 1700. Based on classification defined in Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips' 1958 book Method and Theory in American Archaeology, the Oneota culture belongs to formative stage. The culture is believed to have transitioned into various Siouan cultures of the protohistoric and historic times, such as the Ioway. A long-accepted ancestry to the Ho-chunk has yet to be conclusively demonstrated.
Oneota is considered a major component of Upper Mississippian culture. It is characterized by globular, shell-tempered pottery that is often coarse in fibre. Pieces often had a spherical body, short necks and/or a flat lip. Sometimes the vessels had strap handles. Decoration includes wavy and zigzag lines, often in parallel. Most decoration was done on the top half of the vessel.Analytically, the culture has been broken down into various stages or horizons. Generally accepted are the following:
Emergent Horizon (c. AD 900-1000),
Developmental Horizon (c. AD 1000-1300),
Classic Horizon (c. AD 1300-1650) (previously called the Oneota Aspect),
Historic Horizon (post-contact, generally after 1650).In addition, the Oneota culture has been divided geographically based on stylistic and socio-economic differences. Some of these traditions are Orr, Langford, and Fisher-Huber.
The Oneota diet included corn, beans, and squash, wild rice, nuts, fish, deer, and bison, varying according to the region and locale.Relationships with Middle Mississippian were present but are not yet clearly understood. Whether Oneota developed in situ out of Late Woodland cultures, was invasive, was the result of influence from (proto-)Middle Mississippian peoples, or was some mix of these, is not clear.Savannah Archaeological Site
The Savannah Archaeological Site in Hardin County, Tennessee, is a prehistoric complex of platform mounds and village of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture, a regional variation of Mississippian culture.Sleeth Site
The Sleeth Site is an archaeological site located near Liverpool in Fulton County, Illinois. The side encompasses a 10-acre (4.0 ha) village area including a sizable midden. The site was occupied by people of the Spoon River Culture, a local culture within the Middle Mississippian culture; it is the only known site within the Sleeth Phase of the culture and has been dated to 1500 A.D. Cultural artifacts recovered from the site include a large number of projectile points and pottery shards from jars, plates, and bowls.The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1979.Stone box grave
Stone box graves were a method of burial employed by Native Americans of the Mississippian culture in the American Midwest and Southeast. Their construction was especially common in the Cumberland River Basin around Nashville, TennesseeTurk Site
The Turk Site (15CE6) is a Mississippian culture archaeological site located near Bardwell in Carlisle County, Kentucky, on a bluff spur overlooking the Mississippi River floodplain.Upper Mississippian culture
Upper Mississippian culture, sometimes referred to as Upper Mississippian cultures (plural), is the archaeological designation for certain late prehistoric cultures of the indigenous peoples of eastern North America, located in the present day Midwestern United States region.
the Oneota tradition or culture - in the Mississippian culture, it flourished in the area around Lake Michigan and over into Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri
the Fort Ancient culture - in parts of Indiana, Kentucky, and OhioWickliffe Mounds
Wickliffe Mounds (15 BA 4) is a prehistoric, Mississippian culture archaeological site located in Ballard County, Kentucky, just outside the town of Wickliffe, about 3 miles (4.8 km) from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Archaeological investigations have linked the site with others along the Ohio River in Illinois and Kentucky as part of the Angel Phase of Mississippian culture. Wickliffe Mounds is controlled by the State Parks Service, which operates a museum at the site for interpretation of the ancient community. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is also a Kentucky Archeological Landmark and State Historic Site.
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