Mississippian Mortuary Practices: Beyond Hierarchy and the Representationist Perspective

By Lynne P. Sullivan; Robert C. Mainfort Jr. | Go to book overview

2
The Missing Persons in Mississippian Mortuaries

TIMOTHY R. PAUKETAT

Mortuary studies in archaeology frequently focus on inferring the function or meaning of some burial program in society. The results, I believe, are often inconclusive or deceptive, since the procedure typically involves assuming that a single purpose, meaning, or mortuary program resulted in the material remains excavated. Too rarely do archaeologists consider the idea that the mortuary practices themselves were generative of cultural change (but see Parker Pearson 1982, 2000).

In this essay, I pose a simple question concerning how we understand those mortuary practices: Who is missing? For present purposes, I do not provide a complete answer based on a thorough analysis of data. I merely argue that since specific mortuary rites and emplaced remembrances doubtless had lasting effects for living people (contingent on scale, content, context, and audience), archaeologists need to seek answers to this all-important question in every instance.


Background

I suggest that around Cahokia, the precocious granddaddy of Mississippian political capitals and religious centers, the lasting effects of key mortuary practices involved a transformation of personal and corporate identities. Beyond the Cahokia region, across the eastern Woodlands, I suspect that the preColumbian cultural phenomenon known to archaeologists as “Mississippian” was closely related to specific mortuary events and related cultural practices. Beginning at about A.D. 1050, according to the current synthesis, a large preMississippian settlement (Old Cahokia) was rebuilt into a planned Indian city (New Cahokia). At that time, what had been an intermittent stream of migrants from outlying regions became a flood, bringing the attendant transformations of the regional landscape, agricultural economy, and social order (Alt 2002; Dalan et al. 2003; Emerson 1997; Pauketat 1994, 2004, 2007). At or

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