Sacred Geography of Prehistoric natives of the Woodland Culture – part 3, the Mississippian

Mississippian: From the Golden Age to the Fields

The disappearance of the Adena-Hopewell remains a mystery as does the abandonment their extraordinary artifacts.  Some reasons for the disappearance of Adena-Hopewell Culture include cultural assimilation, prolonged drought, climactic cooling or epidemic disease.  Change in technology occurred around 400 AD. The atlatl was replaced by the bow and arrow, which could have caused a shift in the balance of power.  Increased reliance on agriculture ended the golden age of the Hopewell as the populations became too large for the existing social systems.  A few major Mississippian urban centers include: Cahokia (Illinois), Moundville (Alabama), Angel Mounds (Indiana), Aztalan (Wisconsin) and Emerald (Mississippi).

Religion and Ritual.  Purpose and ceremony did not change much but the development of agriculture led to a different way of perceiving their environment but with expanded trade introduced new goods and ideas with that new gods and new types of worship.  Ancestral reverence continued as did importance of astrology and seasons. Whereas religion and ritual was communal in the Adena it had fully transitioned by the Mississippian period where social, political and religious power fell upon the chiefdom of each social center. Ceremonies and rituals took place on top of large mounds led by a few individuals, the commoners viewed from below.

Earthworks.  The magnificent earthworks of the golden era were no longer needed for a civilization that had evolved beyond their use.  The use of conical burials continued as a way to incorporate their dead in their rituals. Gone are the elaborate embankments, enclosures, sacred circles and elaborate geometric ceremonial centers. A new type of mound is introduced of a larger and higher scale; the platform pyramid or truncated mound. These square or rectangular mounds held homes for the elite and temples for worship. Often these domestic mounds had a large conical mound close by for the burial of their dead.

Part 1, The Adena  Part 2, The Hopewell

References: Geopiety and Landscape Perceptions at Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana by Barbara A Perry


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