Thursday, March 9, 2017

This year, the theme for Florida Archaeology month is "Engineers of the Mississippian." But what exactly is the Mississippian Period? The easy answer is that it's a period in Florida's past dating between AD 1000-1600. Let's take a look at what makes this time period significant.

Paleo-Indian Era 13,000 B.C. - 7000 B.C. Archaic Era 7500 B.C. - 500 B.C. *Woodland Period 1000 B.C. - 1000 A.D. Mississippian Period 1000 A.D. - 1600 A.D. - See more at:
Paleo-Indian Era 13,000 B.C. - 7000 B.C. Archaic Era 7500 B.C. - 500 B.C. *Woodland Period 1000 B.C. - 1000 A.D. Mississippian Period 1000 A.D. - 1600 A.D. - See more at:
The Mississippian Culture, from which the period gets its name, spans much of the Southeast and gets its name from groups that lived along the Mississippi River. During this period, native groups practice intensive agriculture, with maize as the central crop. They changed their landscape, physically by large scale construction projects like mounds, and socially by trading across thousands of miles. Many cultures also developed cheifdoms - centralized political structures that ruled over large areas.

Photo credit: Herb Roe, from Wikipedia.
The largest and best known Mississippian cultural site is Cahokia in Colinsville, IL. At it's height, Cahokia was larger than London in AD 1250, with populations of up to 20,000 people, spanning 6 square miles and featuring 120 mounds. The largest mound at the site, Monk's Mound, is almost 300 meters tall. To put this in perspective, the Great Pyramid at Giza is only 146 meters tall!

Artist's rendition of what Cahokia looked like a thousand years ago. Photo Credit: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
In Florida, the native people did not always adopt these new Mississippian trends. In fact, you could say that while there is a Mississippian Period, there's never really a Mississippian culture. While some groups in the Panhandle practice agriculture, many throughout peninsular Florida continue to hunt, fish and forage. Some groups, like the Calusa in Southwest Florida, are thought to have some degree of political power of much of south Florida. However, the Florida groups all lack the same sort of far-reaching political structures seen elsewhere at the time.
Mississippian Period Floridians did engineer their landscapes like many others from the Mississippian cultures. They built large mounds from sand and shell and dug extensive canal networks. Many of these still existence today including the Grand Shell Ring in Jacksonville (the only known non-Archiac shell ring!), Mt. Royal in Putnam County and Pineland in Ft. Meyers.

Grand Shell Ring is largely constructed from shell midden. Photo credit: Parsons 2008
Archaeologists have also found people in Florida participated in the large trade networks. Artifacts, including copper objects and stone tools, as well as raw materials have been found at sites in North Florida and beyond. Meanwhile, archaeologists have determined that shells found at Cahokia were harvested from Florida's Gulf Coast. Evidence of these trade networks has been found at the Mill Cove Complex in Jacksonville, including a Long-Nosed God Mask and two Cahokia projectile points.

Long-Nosed God Masks have been found throughout the SE including Grant Mound at the Mill Cove Complex and show ties to Cahokia. Photo Credit: Herb Roe, from Wikipedia.
The last residents of the Mississippian Period are here in Florida when the Europeans arrive. This means we have some written documents about them. As these groups interact with the Spanish, their cultures shift and change. So ends the Mississippian Period in Florida.

To explore more of the Mississippian Period, check out our lesson and activities on Mound Building during the period. You can try your hand at mapping Mt. Royal, look for changes to Pineland over time, or create your own mound.

Click here to find out more about Florida Archaeology Month, including finding an event near you!

Text by Emily Jane Murray, FPAN Staff.

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