Madelaine Christine Azar

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10492

Approve Date

April 6, 2023

Project Title

Azar, Madelaine (North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of) "Pottery, Politics, and Religion in the Central Mississippi River Valley, AD 1350-1550"

This dissertation examines the political and religious significance of decorated pottery produced by American Indians in the central Mississippi River valley (CMV) during the Late Mississippian period (AD 1350-1550). Throughout this time, northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri witnessed unprecedented population nucleation. However, despite this demographic consolidation, a single paramount political center did not emerge. Rather, the region hosted numerous adjacent towns engaged in a tangled web of shifting rivalries and alliances. Within this sociopolitical milieu, CMV potters created a tremendous quantity of painted and engraved ceramic vessels depicting religious iconography referencing the Native cosmos, spirit beings, and culture heroes. Unfortunately, current understandings of Mississippian art, religion, and sociopolitical ideology are based on research conducted at paramount political centers in other areas of the American South. The CMV ceramic tradition, and the impact of a competitive, decentralized sociopolitical climate on its development, has never been comprehensively studied. An examination of this art corpus will offer new insights into the articulation between politics and religion in the CMV as well as the broader Mississippian world. This dissertation will (1) outline fundamental aspects of ceramic production, function, and imagery in the CMV and (2) interpret the political and religious significance of these vessels.