14 September 2011

Grand Village of the Natchez and Emerald Mound, Mississippi

The Great Sun's Mound
The Grand Village of the Natchez is within the city of Natchez, Mississippi, since the town probably built up around the Natchez village. Natchez are considered to be the last Mississippian peoples — retaining their social structure and ceremonial cycle well past European contact.

The Natchez peace chief is the Great Sun, who traditionally was carried in a litter and whose feet never touched the ground. The title of the war chief was the Tattooed Serpent. The Grand Village is dominated by the Great Sun's Mound, an immense platform mound, and the Temple Mound, aligned 30 degrees off from the cardinal points.

Pecan, Carya illinoinensis
The site feels incredibly immense. The visitor's center is well staffed and has an excellent selection of baskets on display and for sale. Gardeners have created plant labels and a nature walk. Next to the replica Natchez house, a claustrophobic but tall conical structure, workers planted a small garden, with an overpowering aroma. The small native grapevines are swamped by sea of wild onions!

In the future, I'll never think of mounds without thinking of pecan trees. Their heights were dizzying, and many of the trees might have been alive when the village was still active. It's interesting to consider that while the thick, green grass is such a prominent feature of mounds today, all turf grasses were imported from Europe. Ground covers such as sorrel, purslane, other spreading plants, or bunch grasses are indigenous, but many mounds and plazas were carefully capped with color clay or sprinkled with fine river sand.

Alligator basket by Lorena Langley (Coushatta)
This Grand Village was the Natchez ceremonial center from 1682 to 1729. After warring with the French in 1730, the Natchez ultimately moved to Indian Territory and joined the Muscogee Creek Nation and the Cherokee Nation. Today Natchez people are enrolled in these tribes but have their own organization. Hutke Fields, the Natchez peace chief, maintains his own blog.

For more information about our trip, please visit Exploring the Ancient Southeastern Woodlands.

Emerald Mound

A montage attempting to convey the immense size of Emerald Mound, Adams, MS
Located only twelve miles from the Grand Village is Emerald Mound. This pentagon-shaped platform mound is almost eight acres large and is the second-largest precontact earthwork in the United States. The pentagonal primary mound has two mounds on its surface. It was once surrounded by a protective ditch and six other mounds, which have since been plowed over. Mississippian people, mostly likely Natchez, settled the area at least by 900 CE. Construction on the mound is thought to have begun around 1250, and the mound was used by Natchez well into historical times in the 19th century.

What I haven't read anywhere about the mounds is how much living tribes visit and use the mounds. Natchez traditionalists have traveled from Oklahoma and have held dances on top of Emerald Mound. Despite removal, tribes still maintain relationships to their sacred sites today.


Home & Away Gallery said...

Thanks for your updates, America. The practice of a chief carried in a litter and the image of a tattooed serpent made me think of pre-Columbian Mexican cultures. I don't know if I am correct, but that was my first impression.

In your research, have you encountered similar practices and images in other pre-Columbian northern cultures (i.e., what is now the U.S)?

ahalenia said...

There's debate back and forth about how much Mesoamerican culture affected Mississippian culture, but certainly stories and ceremonies accompanied tobacco and maize when it ws carried north from Mexico. My father took Nahuatl and K'iche' Mayan scholars to Spiro, and they recognized familiar symbols in the art there. So, while there isn't an exchange of goods from Mexico to the Mississippian sites, I believe there was an exchange of ideas.

What's interesting is many Southeastern Indian people see major cultural connections with tribes from the Amazon and Guianas.

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