Mississippian

Map of Mississippian cultures in North America
Map of Mississippian cultures in North America by Herb Roe

Although relatively brief, a mere 400 year span from 950 to 550 years ago, the Mississippian period witnessed many technological and cultural advancements. A mound-building group that may have emerged from the southeast, the Mississippian Culture developed large scale floodplain agriculture and moved trade goods in boats, building highly organized settlements near rivers. Trade goods came from regions as distant as the lower Mississippi River Valley and elsewhere in the Southeast. In fortified cities and towns, large dwellings were constructed on earthen mounds.

The first agriculture (true farming) occurred during the Mississippian period. Stone hoes used in cultivation are frequently found at Mississippian sites. Corn became the major crop, along with beans, squash, and other plants. Agriculture supported fortified towns and cities that served tens of thousands. Ground freshwater mussel shell, used as temper for most Mississippian pottery, may have strengthened vessels for cooking corn and other cultivated grains. Wild game and plants added to Mississippian fare.

Archaeologists are not sure what caused Mississippian society to decline, but it may have been a combination of disease, dwindling resources, and conflict. Although Mississippian civilization rapidly collapsed in the early 1400s, low density settlement persisted for the next several centuries. By the arrival of French explorers in 1673, mounds were overgrown with vegetation and Mississippian peoples had vanished.