The Mississippians

The Mississippians were a Native American culture united in their love of building mounds.  They lived in the southeastern US from about AD 700 to the early 18th century.

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You can’t tell but the photo above, of the Etowah Mounds in Carterville, Georgia, was taken in the torrential rain. The rains washed out our plans to see the site,  but we stopped there long enough so I could take this photo from the parking lot.

Having missed the Etowah Mounds, we decided to stop at the Emerald Mounds, on the Natchez  Trace, on our way from Vicksburg to Natchez. We missed the exit.

We finally got to see Mississippian mounds in Natchez, at the Grand Village of the Natchez, on the southwestern outskirts of town.  The Grand Village of the Natchez was the political and religious capitol of the Natchez people, a Native American tribe who occupied the lower Mississippi River valley, pre-Europeans.

It was home to the chief Natchez chief, called the Great Sun, from the late 17th to early 18th centuries.  Its location is now a 128 acre park administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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The Village contained three ceremonial mounds, two of which have been excavated and recreated. The third has been partially excavated.  The two recreated ones are the ones on which the house of the Great Sun and the temple were located.

French settlers in the area witnessed and wrote about the ceremonies that took place at the village. Whenever the Great Sun died, there was a funeral ceremony on Temple Mound. The ceremony included strangling his wives and servants, so that they could accompany him to the afterlife. The Sun’s bones were housed in the temple.

Meanwhile, back at the Great Sun’s Mound, his house was burnt down and the mound was raised, in order to build the new Sun’s house on top of the old one. Archaeology on the Sun Mound at the Grand Village showed that it had been raised four times in the less-than-100-years that it was used.

Natchez succession was matrilineal.  The Great Sun was always succeeded not by his own son, but by the son of his sister.

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The Natchez were farmers who lived on homesteads scattered throughout the area.  So the Grand Village didn’t have “regular people” residents.  But the museum has reconstructed a Natchez house on the property, just for our information.

There’s also a small museum of Natchez artifacts. This clay pot is from AD1200-1730. The circle and swirl was a common Natchez motif.

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While the Natchez and French settlers got along in the beginning, by the early 1700s, they were fighting. Fort Rosalie, the French fort that’s now operated (and currently closed) by the National Park Service, was built in 1716 to trade with and keep an eye on the Natchez. The Natchez were eventually defeated and those who were captured were shipped off into slavery in the Caribbean. Many of the rest went to live with other tribes, although they seemed to have keep their unique identity as Natchez. Today, headquarters of the federally recognized Natchez Nation is in Oklahoma.

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4 Responses to The Mississippians

  1. Nice writeup. I’m still looking for a world-class museum at one of these sites. (The one in Cahokia is the best I’ve seen.) How would you rate the museum you saw?

  2. Kathie says:

    Would love to see more investment made in teaching about the different native American cultures. So much overlooked, it is ridiculous.

    • I wonder how much is taught in school nowadays. In our day, in the dark ages, we got the Manifest Destiny/Indians-are-the-bad-guys version of American history. Beyond that, Native American history was ignored. I expect it to be different now. Maybe.

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