16 November 2012
Mississippian Mound Builders
Before the discovery of the Americas by Europeans, there were ancient Native American civilizations that flourished throughout the continents. Different regions were known for different things, whether it was hunting, gathering, or trading various commodities. One region in particular, from the Mississippi River Valley to the Ohio River Valley, was made famous by mound building (Joseph, p. 322). Mound building is a sacred and sometimes religious practice that many Native Americans took part in, but the tribes along the major river valleys are the ones that are most well known (Josephy, p. 200). Throughout the earliest recorded time periods, these Native Americans grew and developed into what we call the Eastern Native Americans. The Mississippian mound builders of this region flourished until the late seventeenth century when disease and conflict with new settlers dissipated their populations.
North America was not discovered by European explorers until the mid fifteenth century, and before this time the land was dominated by hundreds of Native tribes across the continent. It was a civilization completely unique from ones developed on the other continents because of the much slower growth rate. The Mississippian tribes were first recognized around the year 500 AD (Jennings, p. 150). Before them, mound builders were classified into two other groups, the earliest of which, the Adena, has been said to have existed as far back as 1000 AD (Jennings, p. 151). Their contributions, as well as those made by the Hopewell, who flourished before the Mississippians, made the practice of earth building what it was. The Hopewell popularized the practice of building mounds for burial purposes, while the later Mississippians kept a religious focus to their construction of them (Joseph, p. 210). Aside from the construction of mounds, these Native tribes took part in different farming techniques and hunting practices.
Culture in the Mississippi region was built mainly on the practice of earth building. Native American mounds were used for many different reasons and were built with skill and precision. The most common types of mounds were those used for burying the dead, ones creating figures or artwork, or those representing temples in their religious practices (Joseph, p. 241). Burial mounds were created reverently to show appreciation and memorialize the dead. Most of the time they were shaped like cones of varying heights and became the resting place of multiple Natives. These mounds were known to encase not only bodies, but also various material possessions that were deemed precious by their owners and other members of the tribe. The Mississippian tribes focused mainly on the religious aspect of mound creation. They created fortresses in which they could perform their different rituals and ceremonies.
In the years spanning from the end of the eleventh century, politics became a central focus of Native American culture in this region. The Mississippi region was home to the most different tribal nations in all of North America (Kehoe, p. 310). The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Natchez, Quapaw, and Tunica tribes are examples of the inhabitants of the region during this time. They established various chiefdoms, with tribes ruling over each other. This region is who popularized the chiefdom, which is a large group that is based on kinship and has at least two social levels within it. It is ruled by a chief, or “cacique" (Leonard, p. 510). The Natchez popularized the name “Great Sun” for their leader because their worship was circled around the Sun since it was the largest object in their society (Josephy, p. 388). While many tribes began in this area, not many lasted for more than a couple hundred years. This is because the Mississippi region could never band together as a unified nation. They were constantly at war with each other and as soon as a...
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