Mississippian religious beliefs and ritual practice: Earthen monuments, rock art, and sacred shrines


The five books under review here explicitly call for archaeologists to place greater emphasis on agency and practice in understanding the role of religion and ritual in the ancient world. Four volumes, principally investigating Mississippian polities, draw our attention to the American midcontinent and its earthen monuments, magical plants, rock art, sacra, and sacred shrines. Although spanning a diversity of approaches and perspectives, the authors demonstrate how cosmograms, exotic objects, sacred landscapes, and transcendental beings articulate with people’s daily lives and lived experiences. Each work offers an awareness of religion as expressed through materiality and the ways past belief systems were bundled, constituted, entangled, and intermeshed with agentive things, built landscapes, humans, natural environments, and other-than-human-persons. The fifth book, by Brian Hayden, contributes a significant approach to these ongoing discussions by stressing the importance of secret societies for interpreting and understanding the power of ritual in the ancient world.

Publication Title

Reviews in Anthropology