Five Thousand Years of Shell Symbolism in the Southeast
Aaron Deter-Wolf and Tanya M. Peres focus on shell symbolism in chapter 7, “Embedded: Five Thousand Years of Shell Symbolism in the Southeast.” The myriad of imagery depicted on marine shell during the late prehistoric period in the American Southeast was meaningful and significant and has provided the basis for important examinations of Mississippian art and iconography. However, the selection of marine mollusks by late prehistoric artisans as an iconographic substrate was explicit and deliberate. By the late prehistoric period, shells were embedded with 5,000 years of physical and symbolic geography. This chapter examines the use of both freshwater and marine shell by ancient Native Americans in the Southeast to recall ancestral origins, sanctify and lay claim to the landscape through the construction of landmarks, legitimize political power through the acquisition and display of symbolic, exotic material, and to signify and enable access to supernatural power.
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