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Speaking with the Ancestors Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region by Kevin E. Smith, James V. Miller

Speaking with the Ancestors Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region


Part of the Dan Josselyn Memorial Publication Series


Speaking with the Ancestors Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region by Kevin E. Smith, James V. Miller

When European explorers began their initial forays into southeastern North America in the 16th and 17th centuries they encountered what they called temples and shrines of native peoples, often decorated with idols in human form made of wood, pottery, or stone. The idols were fascinating to write about, but having no value to explorers searching for gold or land, there are no records of these idols being transported to the Old World, and mention of them seems to cease about the 1700s. However, with the settling of the fledgling United States in the 1800s, farming colonists began to unearth stone images in human form from land formerly inhabited by the native peoples. With little access to the records of the 16th and 17th centuries, debate and speculation abounded by the public and scholars alike concerning their origin and meaning.During the last twenty years the authors have researched over 88 possible examples of southeastern Mississippian stone statuary, dating as far back as 1,000 years ago, and discovered along the river valleys of the interior Southeast. Independently and in conjunction, they have measured, analyzed, photographed, and traced the known history of the 42 that appear in this volume. Compiling the data from both early documents and public and private collections, the authors remind us that the statuary should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as regional expressions of a much broader body of art, ritual, and belief.


This is the first systematic attempt to bring together and depict all known examples of the Tennessee-Cumberland statuary, to document their archaeological context, and to suggest their cultural significance and meaning, placing them center stage as a distinctive Mississippian art form. --Thomas E. Emerson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Smith (Middle Tennessee State Univ.) and Miller provide the first extensive and systematic attempt to document Middle Mississippian (ca. 1000-1350 CE) stone statues recovered through accident or archaeological excavation over the past 200 years. Most are concentrated in the Tennessee-Cumberland region. The first chapter outlines the general physical features of the sculptures--posture, hairstyle, facial features, etc.--and early ideas about them as 'idols.
The second and third chapters define the main artistic style of the core from middle Tennessee

; chapters 4-6 examine those from northern Georgia, Ohio, and the Mississippi Valley. Finally, chapter 7 has an extensive discussion of the earliest historic references to statues by 16th- and 17th-century explorers, as well as ethnographic data on religious themes and myths. The authors conclude that these works involve either paired couples representing founding ancestors of chiefly lineages or single, mainly 'Old Woman
or Earth Mother, themes associated with agriculture and fertility. Appendix A tabulates data on the condition and site location of the 88 known statues, while appendix B discusses fakes. Although this book is written for professional and avocational archaeologists, art historians and individuals interested in American Indians will enjoy it. Summing Up: Recommended

. All levels/libraries. --CHOICE

About the Author

Kevin E. Smith is Professor and Director of Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University. James V. Miller was a Choctaw Independent Scholar.

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Book Info

Publication date

6th January 2009


Kevin E. Smith, James V. Miller

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The University of Alabama Press


280 pages


Archaeology by period / region
Art of indigenous peoples



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