Cosmological Layouts of Secondary Burials as Political Instruments

James A. Brown

in Mississippian Mortuary Practices

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813034263
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039619 | DOI:
Cosmological Layouts of Secondary Burials as Political Instruments

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By reflecting on the deep and myriad cultural connections that bones have as an essence of human life, we can readily recognize the extent to which hard organic residues of life constitute a potent cultural resource in ancient societies. From this observation one can conclude that an important role of bones is to aid in the reproduction of social life. This essay explores ways that secondary interments can actively portray visions about the cosmos in the pre-contact Americas. Its point of departure is the Great Mortuary located in one of the mounds at the Spiro site of eastern Oklahoma. Of particular relevance is the unprecedented scale of the piles of scarce artifacts that were amassed among secondary burials. The essay focuses on the burial display from the summit of Submound 1 of Mound 72, Cahokia, which looks very different from the others. The clearly exhibitory manner in which secondary burials were displayed in the Great Mortuary help frame the ways this essay has conceived of the potential for secondary burial treatments to tap into insights that archaeological cosmograms provide.

Keywords: Great Mortuary; secondary burials; bones; social life; cosmos; Oklahoma; Spiro site; artifacts; Cahokia; cosmograms

Chapter.  8610 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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