The Mississippian Diet and Cultivation

When we talked about the Mississippians, Professor Watrall explained how maize was a huge part of their diets, in fact being one of the seven cultural characteristics. That made me curious as to what else they ate, if anything else at all, whether or not there were class differences in their complex society, and how their diets effected them as a people.

I was able to find somewhat of a generalized diet consisting of fruits, nuts, maize, squash, and some animals. The animals varied from white tailed deer down to rabbits, raccoon, and turkey. It seems as though the Mississippians got their food both from hunting/gathering and from cultivating. The cultivating area of their culture seems to have resulted from their trade ties with other Native American groups in the south. These Natives knew how to grow corn and it seems helped to spread it to the upper states.
With corn being such a huge staple to the people, I was curious as to how society treated its consumption. One thing I found interesting was that the amount of maize consumed depended greatly on the individual’s social class and gender. Upper class individuals ate much more animal protein than the lower class, while somehow only consuming 10% less maize at the same time. Lower class females ate a diet almost completely consisting of maize, and have some of the highest levels of carbon that has been found in human bones. It appears as though animal proteins were only for the upper class. Also, some people of great status were found buried with large amounts of food. Such a waste when there were other members of society starving.
The Mississippians originally were nomadic hunter/gatherers, but abandoned this lifestyle when they started cultivating. Cultivation was extremely prosperous when they stayed in one place all year to tend the crops. This sedentary lifestyle rendered their former nomadic ways useless. People built permanent homes and society was able to flourish and grow. The Mississippians then depended on cultivation to be able to feed their massive populations. However, it is believed that there were major droughts about seven hundred years ago that caused crops to fail miserably. The village farmers were unable to provide the large populations in their towns with sufficient food. This caused the Mississippians to break up into small nomadic groups in order to avoid disease and starvation. Thus leading to the collapse of major centers like Cahokia.