Zoomorphic Effigy Pendants: An Examination of Style, Medium, and Distribution in the Caddo Area

By McKinnon, Duncan P. | Southeastern Archaeology, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Zoomorphic Effigy Pendants: An Examination of Style, Medium, and Distribution in the Caddo Area


McKinnon, Duncan P., Southeastern Archaeology


Introduction

An examination of artistic design and symbolic expression offers an investigative path to explore relationships, interactions, and broadly shared cultural narratives within and between prehistoric southeastern Native American groups (King 2007; Lankford et al. 2011; Reilly and Garber 2009). An evaluation of the artistic form and design of elaborately crafted objects can reveal subtle nuances in regional expressions of cultural traditions because they are expressed in a variety of different mediums and representational forms. Such an evaluation can provide a beginning framework toward an elucidation of cultural traditions and an ability to "reconstruct the socio-cultural reality" tied to the function and meaning associated with certain objects (Coote and Shelton 1992:5). Although expressions may vary across space and time, they, and the artists who embody these expressions, often subscribe to a common theme that is likely representative of broader traditional cultural narratives (Layton 1991:8). This is the case with the artistic tradition composed of symbolically powerful objects crafted by ancestors of the Caddo Indians that lived throughout a vast area in what is today southwest Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, east Texas, and eastern Oklahoma (Figure 1).

The general cultural characteristics that define the Caddo people who occupied the four-state area from at least as early as ca. A.D. 900 and as late as the early nineteenth century (in some locations) include a sedentary settlement pattern of dispersed farmsteads, a subsistence economy of horticultural and agricultural pursuits based on domesticated plants, a complex socio-political system manifest primarily as heterarchical networks of mound centers, and a mortuary program centered around the differential treatment of the dead (Perttula 1992). The Caddo cultural tradition evolved out of several different Woodland period traditions (see Schambach 1982a) throughout the Trans-Mississippi South - a term that is used to describe a diverse biogeographical zone from the southern Ozarks down toward the west Gulf Coastal Plain (Pearson and DuCote 1979; Schambach 1998). Perttula (1992:7-9), using a set of distinct cultural, social, and political characteristics, delineates a 200,000 square kilometer region as the Caddo Archaeological Area within the borders of the TransMississippi South (see Figure 1). The Caddo Archaeological Area is generally divided into three subareas, although not all Caddo archaeologists agree with these divisions or the cultural affiliations of the aboriginal peoples that lived there: Northern Caddo (Arkansas River basin, South Canadian basin, and Western Ozark Highlands), Western Caddo (Western Gulf Coastal Plain and Ouachita Mountains), and Central Caddo (Red and Ouachita River basins). While these subareas are all constituents of the larger Caddo Archaeological Area, each subarea contains regional variations in cultural expression that are distinctive within the cultural framework of Caddo traditions and heritage (see Girard et al. 2014; McKinnon 2011; Perttula 2009; Perttula et al. 2011; Sullivan and McKinnon 2013).

The socio-political, economic, and ideological systems that define the Caddo archaeological tradition, although "Southeastern" in overall character, are different in several distinctive ways and constitute a relatively independent evolution of cultural continuity and change from Mississippian traditions (Perttula 1992, 2012a; Smith 1990). In particular, ancestors of Caddo Indians are known for their distinctive artistic pottery tradition (Early 2012; Perttula 2013; Townsend and Walker 2004). This artistic tradition emphasized the use of a complex suite of abstract designs, though certainly meaningful and symbolic (see Lankford 2010), that were more geometric in expression compared to the more figurai representational motifs prevalent east of the Caddo area (Cherry 2009; Knight 2012; Walker 2004). While a geometric artistic tradition associated with Caddo ceramics is prominent, several examples have been documented where vessels were created with more figurai characteristics, often constructed or engraved with zoomorphic representations of amphibian, avian, or mammal forms (Dowd 2011; Gadus 2013; Hammerstedt and Cox 2011; Hart and Perttula 2010; Hathcock 1974; Jackson 1935). …

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