Resources for the Teacher - Effigies
Ethics and Science
Effigies explores the conflict between archaeologists' desire to learn about human history and Native Americans' desire to prevent their heritage from being plundered and their ancestors' graves from being desecrated. I used a book called Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground (Swidler, N., Dongoske, K., Anyon R., and Downer, A., eds ., Walnut Creek: Alta Mira, 1997) to gain some background knowledge on this subject. It is a collection of essays that gives a broad perspective on issues ranging from the relationship between spirituality and science to the integration of traditional culture into academic archaeology.
Or, to put it in a less dry, academic fashion: Is it ever okay to put somebody's grandmother's bones on display in a museum?
Here are some other questions likely to provoke thoughtful and lively classroom discussions:
Archaeology is a destructive science. Once a historical site is excavated, it can't be returned to its original condition. Any information that is missed, whether through carelessness or because the technology simply isn't able to detect it yet, is lost forever. If you controlled an archaeological site--perhaps an ancient mound--what do you think would be the best approach to managing it, if money were no object? Would you want to make sure it was completely excavated, so that humanity had access right away to any knowledge buried there? Would you direct that it be partially excavated, so that some of the site is left for later archaeologists to investigate with their better techniques? Or maybe you'd prefer that it left untouched. If so, why? Is it because you think there are quite enough uninvestigated artifacts languishing in museums nationwide? Or is it because you think we have no right to desecrate sites that may have been sacred, or may even be burial sites?
Would your opinion change if you knew that the site had been occupied by a culture that was reputed to have developed an effective treatment for cancer? Would you want the mound excavated, on the chance that a clue to this cure could be found?
Ethics and Government
An important archaeological plotline in Effigies is the question of whether Carroll Calhoun's mound is really an effigy--in other words, was it built to be a pictorial representation of something specific, like a bird. Ancient American cultures did build effigy mounds that are so clearly shaped like objects and animals that they can hardly be disputed. Here are some examples:
A photo, a diagram, and some history on the Serpent Mound in Ohio can be found at http://www.heartlandscience.org/envir/smound.htm .
Minnesota State University, Mankato campus presents photos and information on Effigy Mounds National Monument at this site:http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/northamerica/effigy_mounds.html
Effigies can be in the eye of the beholder. For example, the largest mound at the Poverty Point site in Louisiana is widely believed to be an eagle effigy. Some other people think that the sloping ramp-like structures that are interpreted as wings, tail, and head, are just architectural features with no intrinsic meaning. A group of schoolchildren was shown an aerial photo of the mound, and some of them thought it looked like a mushroom.
Here is a link to an aerial photo from 1960. The concentric arches that are typical of the Poverty Point culture are easily discernible. The "bird" mound is to the left of the arches and it's labeled. The scale is very small, but I see something that looks like a mushroom to me... http://ens4.eatel.net/~chalcedony/LA001.jpg
And here is a link to a topographic model produced in 1999. Again, you can see the arches, with the mound to the left of them. Is that a bird or a mushroom or is it just a pile of dirt? LSU Topographic Model
Why do we tend to see shapes in these mounds when their makers might not have intended us to see anything at all? Well, human psychology seems to force us to look for order when we look at a chaotic picture. This is why we see constellations in the sky, when everybody knows there aren't really lions and hunters and bears up there. And it explains why we see human faces everywhere, even on the surface of Mars. The tendency for humans to spot familiar patterns, particularly faces, in random designs is called pareidolia.
For another instances of pareidolia, check out this happy face, photographed on the face of Mars: http://www.space.com/imageoftheday/image_of_day_030526.html And for yet more pareidolia moments, go to this site, where you'll see that the more famous face on Mars is sometimes there, and it sometimes isn't, depending on the time and angle the photograph is taken: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060410_happy_face.html
Some of you have visited geological sites featuring caves with rooms the size of cathedrals, and underground lakes, and passages stretching unexplored for miles, and miles. I can hear you thinking, "I’ve never heard of any caves in Mississippi…"
No, Mississippi is not known for huge caverns festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, though there are a few medium-sized caves with some interesting formations. To do my research for Effigies, I tracked down a copy of Caves of Mississippi, (Knight, E. Leslie. Caves of Mississippi. Hattiesburg: University of Southern Mississippi, in cooperation with Southern Mississippi Grotto of the National Speleological Society, 1974.) This fact-filled little book is out-of-print, but I tracked down a copy at the University of Southern Mississippi. It provided me with a map and a description of the cave in the natural mound at Nanih Waiya State Park. It also provided me with the Pied-Piper-like tale of the Choctaw children being spirited away by the devil and trapped in that cave. I supplemented that information with fascinating stuff gleaned from correspondence with some Mississippi geologists and cave enthusiasts.
While I had my hands on that hard-to-get copy of Caves of Mississippi, I read the whole thing. I learned that, by the standards of a place like Mammoth Cave or Carlsbad Caverns, many Mississippi caves look, well, a little bit like mudholes. Some of them are interesting, though. There’s one cave in Mississippi that was formed by cows licking at a rock outcropping with a high salt content. I know, you’re picturing a shallow depression in the ground, but no. This cave is the size of my bedroom, and it was dug with cow tongues. Let’s all think about that for a moment…no, wait. Let’s not.
Nanih Waiya Cave is also unusual, in that it is located in a clay formation, instead of the usual limestone. I’ve been there, though I was alone and not brave enough to shinny into the tiny opening. We’ll leave that kind of foolhardy activity to Faye. First-person accounts of the cave tell us that it is quite extensive, with multiple chambers. It is said that some of them once held Choctaw artifacts, but very little archaeology has been done there.
With a novelist’s boldness, I supposed that if there was one cave in clay in the area, then there could be two, and Faye’s underground prison came into existence. Some people say that the Choctaws enlarged the real cave in antiquity. Some people say that they dug the whole thing. As you have seen, I left open the question of whether Faye’s cave was completely or partially manmade.
Here are the most important sources I used to research Effigies. In these books and materials, you will find poignant first-person accounts of the removal of the Choctaws to Indian Territory, as well as the actual words that President Andrew Jackson spoke to Congress to justify this unjust action. You will also find books that document Choctaw folklore and describe some of the more impressive caves in the state of Mississippi. As you can probably tell, I had a lot of fun researching this book...
References and Recommended Reading:
Armstrong, Army Major F.W., 1832. Correspondence from Army Major Armstrong on the Choctaw Removal. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. United States Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. United States Serial Set Number 244. Senate Document #512. Correspondence on the Emigration of Indians 1831-1833. 1:412.
Atkinson, Jim. Personal correspondence to Gregg Keyes. 1997.
Blitz, John Howard. An Archaeological Study of the Missississippi Choctaw Indians. Jackson, Mississippi. Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1985. Archaeological Report No. 16.
Brown, V. and Owens, L. The World of the Southern Indians: Tribes, Leaders, and Customs, from Prehistoric Times to the Present. Leeds, Alabama: Beechwood Books, 1983.
Carleton, Kenneth H., 1999. “Nanih Waiya (22W1500): An Historical and Archaeological Overview.” Mississippi Archaeology. 34:2:125-155.
Choctaw History, Culture and Current Events Staff of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. A Choctaw Anthology. Philadelphia, Mississippi: Choctaw Heritage Press, 1983.
Connolly, R. and Lepper, B. The Fort Ancient Earthworks: Prehistoric Lifeways of the Hopewell Culture in Southwestern Ohio. Columbus, Ohio. Ohio Historical Society, 2004.
Connolly, Robert, 1998. “The 1980-1982 Excavations on the Northwest Ridge 1 at the Poverty Point Site.” Louisiana Archaeology. 25:1-92.
Fitzpatrick, Marie-Louise. Long March: The Choctaws’ Gift to Famine Relief. Tricycle Press, 1999.
Jahoda, Gloria. The Trail of Tears: The Story of the American Indian Removals 1813-1855. New York: Wings Books, 1975.
Jackson, A. President Andrew Jackson’s Fifth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1833. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States of America. 27:22.
Kappler, Charles, ed. 1904. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Washington: Government Printing Office. 2:310-319
Knight, E. Leslie. Caves of Mississippi. Hattiesburg: University of Southern Mississippi, in cooperation with Southern Mississippi Grotto of the National Speleological Society, 1974.
Lauro, J., and Lehmann, G. The Slate Site: A Poverty Point Lapidary Industry in the Southern Yazoo Basin, Mississippi. Jackson, Mississippi. Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1982. Archaeological Report No. 7.
Mars, Florence, with Lynn Eden. Witness in Philadelphia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.
Mann, Charles C. 1491. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Morgan, William N. Precolumbian Architecture in Eastern North America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.
Mould, Tom, 2003. Choctaw Prophecy: A Legacy for the Future. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003.
Mould, Tom, collected and annotated. Choctaw Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Peacock, Evan. Mississippi Archaeology Q&A. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005
Purdy, Barbara A. How to Do Archaeology the Right Way. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.
Swanton, John R. Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians. Choctaw, Mississippi: Choctaw Museum of the Southern Indian, 1995.
Swidler, N., Dongoske, K., Anyon R., and Downer, A., eds . Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira, 1997.