Mississippian Influences on Northern People

The rise of Mississippian societies in the south had a profound impact on the people of the Upper Midwest and their historical trajectory for hundreds of years. During the time period around A.D. 1000-1100, the Effigy Mound Tradition largely disintegrated and new cultures were created which archaeologists refer to as Terminal Late Woodland. These people still practiced a seasonal round of resource exploitation and buried their dead in conical burial mounds, but their villages were larger, more permanent and corn was grown much more intensively. The presence of palisades around some of these villages likely indicates an increase in warfare during this period. This situation of increasing population, difficulty in conducting seasonal rounds due to occupied land, and “enforced” sedantism and reliance on agriculture greatly stressed traditional lifeways. These stresses made groups susceptible to new ideas and ways of viewing the world that were emanating from Misssissippian centers to the south. <<<pic: Sketch of Village Site>>>

While Terminal Late Woodland people were adapting to new conditions, Mississippian societies to the south were dealing with their own stresses. As rival elite lineages vied for control of the large Mississippian towns in the south, many of them attempted to create ties with distant groups as a means of enhancing their own prestige and attracting followers. These ties were likely pursued through trading of exotic goods combined with marriage and political alliances. Integrative adoptive ceremonies were likely practiced to facilitate these alliances through the aforementioned trade, establishment of marriage ties or “fictive” kin relations through adoption. It is highly probable that some Terminal Late Woodland leaders pursued connections with southern Mississippians from their end as a way to strengthen their power within the volatile social climate of the north. These contacts allowed for Mississippian ideas to be selectively adopted, altered or rejected by northern peoples. <<<pic: evidence of exchange between these groups>>>

These ideas were very different from traditional Woodland world views and disagreements over their acceptance or dismissal may have further destabilized societies in the north.
One of the most fascinating sites from this time period is the Gottschall rock shelter in southern Wisconsin which has been painstakingly excavated for twenty years by Dr. Robert Salzer. <<<pic: Gottschall Rock Shelter--perhaps with excavation>>>

This small cave contains a remarkable series of paintings on the wall that depict characters from an important Siouan legend that is still told among the Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin. Excavations indicate that the ceremonies associated with the paintings ended around the time that Woodland traditions were giving way to new lifestyles and ideas, including those brought to the north by Mississippian emissaries. It is believed that the main figure on the painted composition is Red Horn or He who wears human heads as earrings, an important character in Siouan stories. Small long nosed god masketts of shell have been found at certain Mississippian burials and there is one exampple of a Mississippian fire-clay figurine depicting a warrior/falcon impersonator (Red Horn?) wearing these masketts. This character may have played an important role in the initial contact and amalgamation of Mississippian and Woodland peoples in the north. <<<pic: Rock Art of Red Horn>>>

Salzer has postulated that the site represents an ancient Woodland (and possibly earlier) ancestor shrine where later date ceremonies were conducted to honor the ancestors as well as integrate both Mississippian and Woodland peoples. Evidence of burning, simplification and eventually cessation of ceremonies after this may indicate that these mechanisms ultimately failed and hostilities broke out between these groups. Such an interpretation would go along with other evidence such as palisaded villages to indicate that this time was extremely dynamic and volatile for people in the region.

Although Mississippian contacts may initially have constituted long distance trade, marriage or fictive kin alliances, within several generations this changed to the actual migration of Mississippian peoples to the north. There is evidence for possible movements of Mississippian people into areas occupied by local Terminal Woodland people along the Apple River in northwestern Illinois, Trempealeau and Aztalan in Wisconsin, and Red Wing, Minnesota. The Trempealeu location seems to have been occupied briefly by Mississippian people relatively early, but was abandoned in favor of the Red Wing locality. Aztalan represents a large, fortified Terminal Late Woodland village that saw the immigration of a group of Mississippians and restructuring of the town to include plazas and large platform mounds. There are no other Mississippian sites around Aztalan and the site seems to represent a location where local Woodland people invited Mississippian settlers, possibly to assist in hostilities with neighboring people. It appears that Aztalan came to a sudden end, possibly as a result of this long term conflict. <<<pic: Aztalan w/link>>>

The best example of Mississippian migration to the north is the Apple River locality in northwestern Illinois. Here there is evidense for a substantial local population of Terminal Late Woodland people and an influx of Mississippians with subsequent construction of several large towns with platform mounds. Dispersed between these towns were smaller hamlets and farmsteads. The Apple River people sat at the “gateway” to the Upper Mississippi Driftless area and for several centuries could monitor movements of people, ideas and exotic trade goods between the Woodland north and Mississippian south. It is likely that the Apple River settlements played a crucial role as “cultural mediator” between these two interacting realms. <<<pic: Apple River site and artifacts>>>

The Apple River sites are not well understood, but recent excavations by the University of Illinois indicate that this area is critical to understanding the Mississippian impact on cultural developments in the north. Moving upriver from here there are several fortified, Woodland sites with abundant evidence for contacts with southern Mississippians and Plains farming groups to the west. This dynamic and possibly violent time period set in motion processes that determined the course of Native peoples and their histories for centuries to come.

What happened to these Mississippian migrants and their Woodland allies? At the present we do not know, except that by A.D. 1350 (possibly earlier) many of the great southern Mississippian centers such as Cahokia were largely abandoned. At the same time the northern Mississippian centers of Apple River, Aztalan and Red Wing also ceased to exist, with the people leaving to unknown locations. Archaeologists debate what happened to these centers, but one point they agree on is that the Mississippian adaptive strategy, social system and way of life did not succeed in the north. Initially the Mississippian life way and belief systems may have offered an alternative to Terminal Woodland groups faced with the failure of traditional systems due to population pressures and warfare. Despite the allure of new ideas and actual migration of Mississippian peoples, it did not take long for these amalgamated groups to develop new cultures that bore less and less resemblance to the stratified, town centered chiefdoms to the south.

At the same time that Mississippians were migrating north to live with allied Woodland groups, an indigenous culture known as Oneota was developing in parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Oneota people lived in large villages, used shell tempered pottery and grew substantial amounts of corn and other crops. Despite these similarities with Mississippian people, the Oneota had a much more decentralized political structure that allowed large groups the mobility to break up easily for hunts and the pursuit of other seasonal resources. <<<pic: Oneota artifacts--to contrast with others>>>

It is likely that the Oneota were descendents of some Effigy Mound and Terminal Woodland people of the area while other such groups allied themselves with Mississippian people and ideas. It appears that in some areas there was a frontier of violent conflict between both of emerginf Oneota and Terminal Woodland/Mississippian peoples. Although local groups allied with Mississippians may have temporarily had an upper hand, ultimately it was the Oneota lifestyle that prevailed throughout the upper Midwest. It is likely that the northern Mississippian peoples eventually joined with powerfull Oneota groups nearby as southern Mississippian centers began to decline. If this did indeed happen, Mississippian ideas would undoubtedly have been brought with them. As groups like the Ho-Chunk and Ioway are likely descended from Oneota peoples, their traditions likely have a deep ancestory and heritage in regional Effigy Mound, Terminal Woodland, and migrant Mississippian traditions.

Today, some archeologists have even turned to elders from these groups for assistance in interpreting some of their findings. This link will take you to an excellent example of one such onging project. <<<link to Salzer talk--perhaps with a small version of the title pic>>>


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