Caddoan Mississippian culture

Published on December 10, 2012 by Amy

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Caddoan Mississippian Pottery
Caddoan Mississippian Pottery

The Caddoan Mississippian culture was a prehistoric Native American culture considered by archaeologists as a variant of the Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Northeast Texas, and Northwest Louisiana. Archaeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present; that the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma included the speakers of the Caddo and related Caddo language in prehistoric times and at first European contact, is unquestioned today.

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The Caddoan Mississippians are thought to be an extension of Woodland period peoples, the Fourche Maline culture and Mossy Grove culture peoples who were living in the area around 200 BCE to 800 CE. They were linked to other peoples across much of the Eastern Woodlands through trade networks. This time period saw the introduction of pottery making from peoples to their east, and by 500 CE the bow and arrow from the Southwest. By 800 CE early Caddoan society began to coalesce into one of the earlier Mississippian cultures. Some villages began to gain prominence as ritual centers, with elite residences and temple mound constructions. The mounds were arranged around open plazas, which were usually kept swept clean and were often used for ceremonial occasions. As complex religious and social ideas developed, some people and family lineages gained prominence over others. This hierarchical structure is marked in the archaeological record by the appearance of large tombs with exotic grave offerings of obvious symbols of authority and prestige.

By 1000 CE a society that is defined as “Caddoan” had emerged. They had developed a distinct type of pottery making, later described by the de Soto expedition as some of the finest they had seen, even in their European homeland. By 1200 the numerous villages, hamlets, and farmsteads established throughout the Caddo world had begun extensive maize agriculture. By 1400 Caddo populations had peaked, with many ritual centers beginning to decline in population. A more dispersed settlement system developed, with the bulk of the people living on dispersed homesteads and farms rather than in large villages. By this time the earlier broad cultural unity began to break down, with many distinct local variations developing.

Recent excavations have revealed more cultural diversity within the region than was expected, especially sites along the Arkansas River. Caddoan Mississippian towns had a more irregular layout of earthen mounds and associated villages than did towns in the Middle Mississippian heartland to the east. They also lacked the wooden palisade fortifications often found in the major Middle Mississippian towns. Living on the western edge of the Mississippian world, the Caddoans may have faced fewer military threats from their neighbors. Their societies may also have had a somewhat lower level of social stratification. The location of the western edge of the Eastern Woodlands may account for these differences. The climate was drier, hindering maize production, and the lower population on the plains to the west may have meant fewer neighboring competing chiefdoms to contend with. Major sites such as Spiro and the Battle Mound Site are in the Arkansas River and Red River Valleys, the largest and most fertile of the waterways in the Caddoan region, where maize agriculture would have been the most productive.


Caddoan Mississippian peoples were connected to the larger Mississippian world to the east and other cultures to the southwest by trade networks which spanned the North American continent. Artifacts found in “The Great Mortuary” (Craig Mound) at the Spiro site included wood, conch shell, copper, basketry, woven fabric, lace, fur, feathers, and carved stone statues. Some of the artifacts came from as far away as Cahokia in Illinois, Etowah and Ocmulgee in Georgia, and Moundville in Alabama. Many featured the elaborate symbolism of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, a multiregional and pan-linguistic trade and religious network. Exotic material found at Caddoan Mississippian sites included colored flint from New Mexico, copper from the Great Lakes, conch (or lightning whelk) shells from the Gulf Coast, and mica from the Carolinas. The Spiro site is the only Mississippian site to produce an artifact from Mesoamerica, a piece of black obsidian from Mexico, probably through trade with peoples to the southwest. Using these valued materials, Mississippian artists created exquisite works of art reflecting their cultural identity and their complex spiritual beliefs.

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