Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents and Winged Beings

By Mainfort, Robert C., Jr. | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents and Winged Beings


Mainfort, Robert C., Jr., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents and Winged Beings. By Susan C. Power. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 254. Illustrations, acknowledgments, introduction, glossary, notes, works consulted, index. $39.95.)

From the title, colorful dust jacket, and large format, a potential reader likely would expect this to be a heavily illustrated book. This is not the case, however. The volume includes only twenty-four color plates (three of which are modern paintings), thirty-two halftone photographs, and thirteen black and white line drawings. Contrary to the title, areal coverage is not confined to the Southeast but also includes southern Ohio. Moreover, coverage within the region is decidedly uneven, with the lower Mississippi River Valley faring rather poorly. Of the 220 pages of body text, 97 are specifically devoted to art of the post-A.D. 900 Mississippian cultures, with only 55 pages on the previous ten millennia of human habitation in the New World. Thus, the volume falls a bit short of being "a visual journey through time" on several counts (p. 2). The six-page glossary near the end is a useful inclusion, though it is likely to escape the notice of casual readers.

No objects pre-dating circa 2500 B.C. are illustrated or discussed in more than very cursory fashion. Thus, the oldest reported cemetery in the New World, located in northeast Arkansas and dating to circa 8000 B.C., receives no mention nor do the large, finely crafted points placed with some of the dead. There is no want of aesthetically pleasing objects dating from 8000 to 3000 B.C. in the Southeast, but none are shown. Receiving particularly short shrift is the remarkable ground-stone bead industry centered on the Poverty Point site (now an archaeological park in northeastern Louisiana) and dating circa 2500-1200 B.C. Thousands of exquisite examples, representing insects, birds, and other forms, are available for study, but only a single example is shown. Discussion of the Middle Woodland period (circa 200 B.C.-A.D. 300) is heavily weighted toward southern Ohio, while artistic objects from contemporary locales in the greater Midsouth (e.g., Helena, Arkansas; Pinson, Tennessee; and Marksville, Louisiana) are ignored. …

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