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Cultures > Mississippians

:: 900 AD - 1500 AD

Cultural Background | Surviving

Cultural Background

Native Americans, who are also known as American Indians, were the original inhabitants of North America and South America. There are many subgroups of Native Americans who live in their own nations and tribes. The Mississippians were one of these groups.

These Native Americans are called the Mississippians because they settled along the banks of the Mississippi.

The Mississipians were a sedentary people, which means they stayed in one place instead of moving from place to place in search of food and shelter. Their community was based on agriculture and they mainly grew maize (corn).

The center of the Mississipians culture was at Cahokia. Cahokia is located in southeast Illinois at the juncture of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers.

The Mississippians are also known as moundbuilders because they built huge earthen mounds. These mounds were built over time and were used to bury the dead, as well as build temples and other buildings above the other dwellings of the city.

The Mississippians built many mounds, as many as 120, the largest of which is Monks Mound. Monks Mound is about 100 feet high.

Time Period: 900 AD - 1500 AD.

Location: The Mississippians lived along the banks of the Mississippi River in North America. They lived in what is called the American Bottom, which is located along the lower Mississippi River delta.

Geography: The Mississippians settled at the confluence of three major rivers and four ecozones. The meeting of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers created an exceptionally fertile and expansive flood plain called the American Bottom. It stretched 70 miles along the Mississippi from present-day Alton, Illinois to Chester, Illinois, and was up to 12 miles wide from the river east to its bluffs. In spring, when rains swelled the bottom land's streams, water carrying rich silt from the
riverbeds renewed the nutrients essential for consistent and wide-scale farming. This extensive network of waterways also gave the Mississippians access to distant areas where they hunted, traded and learned through the contacts with other cultures.

The Mississippians found a wealth of natural resources in their environment. The forested Ozark Mountains to the southwest offered important rocks and minerals, like granite, sandstone, limestone and especially chert, or flint, for making tools. The Ozarks were full of white-tailed deer, the Mississippians' primary source of meat and skin for rawhide and clothing. The prairie to the north and west was a seemingly endless expanse of tall grasses that were useful for building and furnishing homes and
other structures. The Woodlands to the east of the American Bottom were rich in nuts and berries, in animal life and in hardwood deciduous trees. The Mississippi Valley gave the farmers rich soil, abundant aquatic life and many edible plants.

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Learn more about Woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.


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