Spiro Mounds

Spiro Mounds - Artist Concept

Artists conception of the Caddoan Mississippian culture Spiro Mounds Site in eastern Oklahoma on the Arkansas River.

Occupied between 800 to 1450 CE, the site was a major regional power. The illustration shows the large Brown Mound at the center of the site next to the oval shaped the plaza to the west ringed by smaller house mounds. To the southeast is the famous Craigs Mound, or "The Great Mortuary Mound", with its distinctive profile.

The mounds site, located seven miles outside of Spiro, Oklahoma, is the only prehistoric, American Indian archaeological site in Oklahoma open to the public. The mounds are one of the most important American Indian sites in the nation. The prehistoric Spiro people created a sophisticated culture which influenced the entire Southeast. Artifacts indicate an extensive trade network, a highly-developed religious center, and a political system which controlled the entire region. Located on a bend of the Arkansas River, the site was a natural gateway from which the Spiro people exerted their influence. Yet much of the Spiro culture is still a mystery, as well as the reasons for the decline and abandonment of the site.

In terms of its artifact legacy, a few items are of particular note.

 

Fig. 1 - Spiro Mounds, Turtle Shell

Fig. 1 - Spiro Mounds, Turtle Shell

What is thought to be a turtle figure, the repetition of the hand is a universal symbol, explored below.

Figure 2 intrigues by the attire - the warriors have shoes, wear a helmet like headdress, seem to be holding a shield in one hand, and a mace like object in another.  The cross figures prominently. Another interpretation of this object is that it depicts two dancers at the axis mundi, the point in some indigenous belief systems where the upper, lower, and middle worlds meet.

Fig. 2 - Spiro Mounds, Shell "The Warriors"

Fig. 2 - Spiro Mounds, Shell "The Warriors"

Metal objects - its important to remember that at the time of European contact metal useage north of the Rio Grande was not known - from Spiro mound include:

Fig - 3 Spiro Mounds, Copper Axe  

Fig - 3 Spiro Mounds, Copper Axe

 

Thirty copper axes (Fig. 3) with finely carved wooden handles, like this example were recovered from Craig Mound. They represent some of the rarest artifacts found during the excavation. Fig. 3 is well preserved and similar in design to the other hafted axes. The wooden handles have carved crested bird heads with copper axes hafted through the open mouths. Some of the handles are made of persimmon and they were all inlaid with shell eyes. They measure about two feet long.

The birdman (Fig. 5) is a figure in copper, and is more akin to an angel with wings than the normal mesoamerican representation of a man in bird skin.  Angel figures first appear in Sumerian civilization.

Fig. 4 - Spiro Mounds, Copper Head and Figure

Fig. 4 - Spiro Mounds, Copper Head and Figure

Fig. 5 - Spiro Mounds, Bird Man

Fig. 5 - Spiro Mounds, Bird Man

The so called "Rattlesnake Disk" is perhaps the most intriguing of the finds in Spiro Mound, not because of the rattlesnake, but because of the eye in hand motif, which appears to be a Hamsa a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa which features the all seeing eye. 

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

Fig. 7

The Hamsa Hand is an ancient Middle Eastern amulet symbolizing the Hand of God. In all faiths it is a protective sign. It brings its owner happiness, luck, health, and good fortune.
— Orly
Fig. 8 Spiro Mound - Rattlesnake Disk

Fig. 8 Spiro Mound - Rattlesnake Disk

Fig. 9 Drawing - Rattlesnake Disk

Fig. 9 Drawing - Rattlesnake Disk

Fig. 10 -Spiro Mound - Rattlesnake Disk (Reversed)

Fig. 10 -Spiro Mound - Rattlesnake Disk (Reversed)

Depicting the open right hand, an image recognized and used as a sign of protection in many times throughout history, the hamsa is believed by Jews and others to provide defense against the evil eye.  It has been theorized that its origins lie in Ancient Egypt or Carthage (modern-day Tunisia) and may have been associated with the goddess Tanit.  To find such symbolism in ancient America is an enigma suggestive of cross-continental cultural exchange.

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