Visualizing the Sacred: Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World

By Moses, Sharon K. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Visualizing the Sacred: Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World


Moses, Sharon K., Southeastern Archaeology


Visualizing the Sacred: Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World. GEORGE E. LANKFORD, F. KENT REILLY III, and JAMES F. GARBER (eds.). University of Texas Press, Austin, 2011. xviii, 357 pp., illus., map. $60.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-2-292-72308-5.

Following on the heels of the publication of Ancient Objects, Sacred Realms (Reilly and Garber, 2007), this is the second volume in the Linda Scheie series in Maya and pre-Columbian studies. Visualizing the Sacred continues the exploration and comparative analyses of Mississippian cultures, dating from AD 900 to 1600, and focuses upon the iconography and artifacts that extend throughout the Mississippi Valley and surrounding regions. The chapters in this volume are presented as interdisciplinary in nature, though the majority of contributing authors are scholars in anthropology and archaeology (there are two exceptions: one author is an executive director for an art publication and one is a professor emeritus of folklore).

The Mississippian culture is inherently complex with many variations locally and between regions. The editors admit that academic consensus seems to be impossible in defining the subject matter under one label. As it is now known, the "Mississippian Ideological Interactions Sphere" (MHS) has replaced its former description, the "Southeastern Ceremonial Complex" (SECC) because it has become clear that emergent iconographies, motifs, and themes located in core archaeological sites such as Cahokia, Moundville, and Etowah extended far beyond those sites and a southeastern United States context in general. The chapters in the volume address MllS-related topics from the middle to lower Mississippi Valley (central and upper Mississippi Valley seem to be subsumed), Cumberland Valley, Moundville, Etowah, and the upper Tennessee Valley.

In the introduction to the volume, Lankford provides a good historical overview of the how and the why for the MHS label, as well as its temporal and geographic spans. This effectively addresses a criticism of the first volume that articles were too widely scattered across the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest to be cohesively meaningful. In addition, the methodology of the book emphasizes the use of ethnographic and historical accounts where possible and input from Native American religious leaders to assist in identifying meanings and thematic links between regions that comprise the Mississippian culture. This approach is more inclusive and seems a good faith effort to avoid the criticism often applied to archaeological interpretation of indigenous cultures made in exclusion of indigenous oral histories. Duncan provides an example of this approach by utilizing historical and ethnographic data on Osage cosmological myths to posit a hypothesis linking Osage influences to Mississippian iconography found at Spiro.

The philosophical and methodological approach of the book strives for contextual and regional variation rather than any attempt at "universalizing" iconographie images among the Mississippian cultures in order to link them together. For example, the comparative studies of raptor imagery found in Moundville and Etowah as presented by Lankford, King, and Reilly are very different and yet do not undermine one another's interpretations. …

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