The Mississippian Period (AD800 – AD1600)
The Mississippian period was first identified by Smithsonian anthropologist W. H. Holmes, who examined several different pottery groups of eastern North America. His definition now extends to the cultural complexes that produced those ceramics (Green 1997). This period was characterized by the widespread occurrence of large agricultural settlements, including the sites of Cahokia and Aztalan. This was made possible in part by advancement in agricultural methods and exploitation of changing environmental conditions. There is a corresponding increase in population densities and year-round occupation (Milner 2004).
The previously established pattern of primary and secondary subsistence practices continued, although in a slightly different way. While maize was the main crop represented in the archaeological record, it was likely supplemented by bean, squash, pumpkin, gourd, and sunflower. These were crops which could be stored for an extended period of time. This was an essential change that allowed the development of large, permanent villages (Smith 1975).
A recognized decline in stone tool diversity and complexity occurs during this period. This likely occurred due to restrictions on the time and energy of peoples and as a response to increasing sedentism (Jeske 1992:468). Bead and ornament creation occurred at large urban centers such as Cahokia and other American Bottom Mississippian sites (Odell 1998:565). As mobility declined, so did the need for bifaces (Odell 1998:568). As a way of utilizing a core’s maximum potential, bipolar flaking is often seen as an indicator of stress, and the decline in its use may indicate that the sedentism of this period provided more stability than in previous periods (Jeske 1992:472).
Local variations of the Mississippian tradition, such as the Oneota culture in Wisconsin, emphasize the increasing factionalization of broader social categories. In the case of the Oneota culture, the transition was made possible by the introduction of intensive horticultural subsistence activities. The adoption of other methods and ideas, such as shell tempering, further connected the developments of the Mississippian period to Oneota through trade and exchange networks.
Around AD500, the diversity and complexity of projectile points declines sharply. This is associated with the Late Woodland, Mississippian, and Oneota cultures. This may have been due to an increasing focus on social and political aspects associated with the increasing population and sedentism of those time periods (Jeske 1992:468).
1997 Middle Mississippian Peoples, edited by Robert Birmingham, Carol Mason, and James Stoltman, pp. 202-222. The Wisconsin Archaeologist, Vol. 78 (1/2), Wisconsin Archaeological Survey, Milwaukee.
Jeske, Robert J.
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2004 The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America. Thames and Hudson, London.
1998 Investigating Correlates of Sedentism and Domestication in Prehistoric North America. American Antiquity, Vol. 63 (4): 553-571.
1975 Middle Mississippi Exploitation of Animal Populations. In Anthropological Papers No. 57. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.