Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region

Article excerpt

Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. KEVIN E. SMITH and JAMES V. MILLER. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2009. xvii + 234 pp., 129 figs., 3 tables, two appendices, references, index. $38.50 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-5465-7.

Reviewed by Timothy K. Perttula

Kevin E. Smith and James V. Miller have done the field of Mississippian period archaeology a fine turn by publishing their findings in Speaking with the Ancestors concerning 48 stone (limestone, sandstone, and marble) figurai statues (more than 20 cm in height) from Mississippian sites in the Cumberland River Valley of Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as 38 others from north Georgia, Mississippi, southern Illinois and Indiana, and northeastern Arkansas sites. These stone statues have generally been carved in a similar style (the Tennessee-Cumberland style statuary) by a variety of artisans in several different locales between ca. A.D. 1200 and A.D. 1400 and are thought to be depictions of gendered ancestral figures. More broadly, these statues are viewed as shrine statues, "part of the set of holy relics that provided the foundation of chiefly power in many Mississippian chiefdoms" (p. 32).

In the book's seven chapters and two appendices (Appendix A, a tabular summary of stone statue characteristics, and Appendix B, a review of nine other statues and two Benton County statue fakes), Smith and Miller discuss previous studies of Mississippian stone statuary; including general features of the face and head, hairstyle and headgear, and the torso and body; define the Tennessee-Cumberland style of statuary in the Middle Tennessee Heartland (Figure 3.1, p. 38); and summarize the stone statuary findings from North Georgia Heartland (centered on the Etowah site), the Tennessee Periphery region, and the Ohio and Mississippi Valley (where stone statues were sometimes made from calcium fluoride). Each of the chapters summarizing the stone statue finds from the different regions include descriptions of the known archaeological contexts of the statues at the sites as well as photographs and/or drawings of each of the statues; this is no mean feat in and of itself, given the vagaries of discovery and past documentation of these statues since the 1790s.

What is the Tennessee-Cumberland statuary style? The style includes "realistic portrayals of sitting or kneeling human or near-human figures sculpted from locally available stones" (p. …

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