When I scheduled this class a year ago I thought that it would be a fun class to learn about famous archaeological sites like the Pyramids at Giza, Stonehenge, etc. And while we did learn about these well known sites, what really intrigued me about this class was learning about the society and culture behind these sites. One topic that really intrigued me was the Mississippians. Before we learned about this great society I knew a little bit about the Mississippians, but only insomuch as they were the ones who had built the great earthworks that snake throughout the Midwest. I had no idea of the complexity and breadth of their society and culture. The fact that the Mississippians were in contact with other peoples ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico is incredible. The vast and complex trading network that spanned this area is even more unbelievable, because even today transporting goods over distances that far is no easy feat. To think that a people hundreds of years ago had mastered this skill is amazing.
In addition to this extensive trading network was the complex religious belief system that, while not monolithic, threaded throughout the Mississippians’ region of influence and tied together these far afield settlements. It is interesting to note the similarities between Mississippian beliefs of the cosmos and those of neighboring and even distant American societies. However, the idea of the Axis Mundi is not unique to the New World and several examples of similar ideologies occur throughout religions the world over. Two such examples are the Nordic Yggdrasil and the Hindu Brahman. The idea that religions as far separated as America is from India can share similar, if not identical, beliefs is mind-blowing. This begs the question, how did this come to be? The Jungian psychologist would answer that these beliefs are somehow intrinsic to the human psyche and that their development in such far afield locales only points to the existence of a human collective unconscious. The modern anthropologist might argue that the societal and political structures of these societies resemble each other and that the development of these beliefs is a natural human response to these impetuses. A diffusionist might posit a long standing direct correlation between these cultures that points to the direct exchange of these beliefs. A sensationalist might see these similarities and point to the existence of a origin society such as Atlantis or the presence of extraterrestrial intervention. I believe that there is not yet enough information to confirm a concrete answer and that more study must be done to answer this question (although some of these suggestions can be safely assumed incorrect). In conclusion, learning about the Mississippians has greatly opened my eyes to the connections between cultures that I had not thought about before.