It is often said that by adopting agriculture, humanity took its first and most important step away from nature. Yet such arguments tend to be based more on assumptions extrapolated from current industrial monocultural farming, rather than on specific cases in which peoples transitioned from gathering and hunting to intensive agriculture.
My thesis explores the impact of the transition to intensive agriculture among Native Americans who lived in Illinois from about two thousand years ago (the Hopewell period) until about six hundred years ago (the end of the Mississippian). Specifically, I investigate whether and how the Illinois Mississippians' perceptions of animals changed after they began farming maize intensively. For my primary data, I use artistic representations of animals on artifacts. I compare animal representations made by the earlier Hopewell peoples (who practiced a mix of gathering, hunting, and garden-level horticulture) with those of the later Mississippian farmers. Moreover, I also apply a new, interdisciplinary method that I have developed for studying the meanings of animals in cultural context. This method involves four interrelated steps: formal analysis of the artworks, study of their archaeological contexts, exploring the natural history of the animals depicted, and surveying relevant ethnohistoric and folkloric information on what Native American peoples thought of these animals.
I have found that the Illinois Mississippian farmers represented relatively fewer animal species than did the Hopewell peoples. On the other hand, certain animals nevertheless played key roles in Illinois Mississippian worldview and religious rituals. Many of these rituals involved agriculture. For instance, frogs and snakes were called upon to increase agricultural fertility and provide the proper amount of water for the growing crops, while Spider Woman helped bring the fertilizing power of the Sun down from the heavens. But other animals that were represented quite frequently by the Illinois Mississippians seem to have had nothing to do with agriculture, including beavers and owls. My study has shown, then, that while the adoption of intensive maize agriculture did change Illinois Mississippians' relations with animals, farming did not entirely distance them from the natural world. Instead, animals remained central to their religious beliefs.
|Advisor:||Buikstra, Jane E., Dietler, Michael|
|School:||The University of Chicago|
|School Location:||United States -- Illinois|
|Source:||DAI-A 68/10, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Religion, Archaeology, Native Americans, Native studies|
|Keywords:||Agriculture, Animals, Hopewell, Illinois, Mississippian, Native Americans, Precontact, Religion|
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