Mediating Spirit Worlds in Native North America

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

This session considers archaeological materialities from a variety of timescales in order to explore indigenous ontologies in North America. We are interested in how physical and spiritual worlds were embodied and constituted with material culture in particular historical moments and over longer periods of time. The focus is on the discursive relationship between lived and historicized ontologies. We seek to draw out the diversity of spiritual existences in the history of Native North America by interrogating how people, objects, and landscapes were inscribed with meaning, memory, and belief. We include studies from across the continent ranging in temporal focus from deeper eras of prehistory to colonial times. Some case studies explore how spiritual practices endured or transformed in the face of drastic historical ruptures such as cultural invasion and violent or otherwise forced religious proselytization. Others take a long-view perspective, asking how ontologies developed and transformed across wide expanses of time. The juxtaposition of timescales offers new insights on the nature of cultural continuity and change in Native North America, while the geographical breadth of the session allows comparison of diverse indigenous ontologies and the ways in which they framed, historicized, and related persons, spirits, animals, plants, and things.

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  • Documents (10)

  • The Catechism of Time Discipline in the Franciscan Missions of La Florida (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charles Cobb. Gifford Waters.

    Franciscan missions in La Florida have been characterized as struggling between an unresolved duality between their Christian obligations and their mandated support functions for the larger colony. We suggest that there was a dialectical symmetry between these demands. Catholicism introduced a new set of rhythms into the daily life of Indigenous communities centered on prayer, study, the sacraments, feast days, and other ongoing religious observances. This periodization of time and behavior...

  • The History and Future of Ceremonial Stone Landscapes of Southern New England (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alexandra Martin.

    Indigenous people have lived on and moved throughout the landscape of southeastern New England for thousands of years. Today, representatives from several Tribal Historic Preservation Offices are interested in identifying and protecting ceremonial stone groupings that are significant elements of ceremonial landscape sites, ties to which were in many cases severed by colonial law. These sites are important loci of Indigenous history, inter-Tribal ceremony, and collective memory. This presentation...

  • Late Archaic Body Worlds: Some Preliminary Thoughts (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Creese.

    The Terminal Archaic (ca. 4000-3000 cal. BP) marked an important turning point in the upper Midwest. New relationships among persons, landscapes, and material culture emerged that, in many ways, set a pattern for the next two millennia. This paper makes a preliminary effort to interpret these changes in terms of shifting ontologies of the body. Of particular interest is the emergence of clear spatial divisions between the living and the dead on the landscape. Other patterns include the elaborate...

  • Materialities of Religious Transformation from Coast to Coast in Pre-Columbian Florida (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Neill Wallis.

    During the 7th century in Florida, a decisive shift is apparent in the ways people were positioned in relation to burial sites and how they manufactured and interacted with portable objects. The transition ushered in the Weeden Island archaeological culture, well-known for the prevalence of exquisitely crafted pottery vessels and a characteristic mortuary regime widely adopted across the Gulf coastal plain and beyond. This paper examines the historical moment of change in terms of shifting...

  • "Nothing but Wood and Stones": A Long-View Perspective on Human-Stone Relations in the Native Northeast (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Craig Cipolla.

    In 1762 Ezra Stiles—ethnohistoric observer and future president of Yale University—puzzled over the significance of brush and stone heaps constructed by indigenous people of New England. He found the label “sacrifice rocks” unfit for such features because indigenous people never killed animals or offered lives of any kind there. I begin this paper by addressing some of the challenges involved in interpreting eighteenth- and nineteenth-century indigenous spirituality and religion. I contextualize...

  • Pottery Agents: A Case Study of Nonhuman Beings from the American Southwest (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only William Walker. Chadwick K. Burt.

    Since the enlightenment western approaches to material culture have distinguished between natural and supernatural processes. This demarcation produces archaeological perspectives at odds with ethnographically known cultures and likely past ones. Contemporary Native American ontologies emphasize the animacy of things such as architecture and pottery. An important theoretical question therefore, is what social relationships did people establish with material objects, and how did these...

  • Religious Conversion and Social Networks in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico: A Case Study from Pecos Pueblo (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adam Stack. Matt Liebmann.

    The religious conversion of Native North Americans was a fundamental goal of European colonizers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Native experiences of missionization have often been framed within a concept of religious conversion as ontological transformation that descends from Christian doctrine. Many Native ‘converts’ doubtless eluded encounters with the transcendent leading to fundamental inner change, and archaeologists have often been frustrated in the search for convincing...

  • Sound, health, and spirituality in the colonial Lower Mississippi Valley (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Diana Loren.

    Wellness and spirituality are rooted in the body. Bodies and material culture are intertwined through practices of healing; ways to navigate bodily and spiritual health in daily life. In colonial Lower Mississippi Valley, European-introduced diseases and new forms of material culture greatly impacted Native American communities and their practices of healing. Some of these stories are familiar to us: the changes brought about by access to new materials, new tools, and new kinds of clothing. Yet,...

  • The Spiritual Economy of Shell in Native North America: Still Circulating (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Katherine Hayes.

    Shell material, particularly marine shell, has long been recognized in the archaeology of pre-colonial America as a “prestige” good of complex meaning. Particularly in the Mississippian world, shell traveled great distances and appeared in richly meaningful contexts of use. Even in areas abundant in shellfish, however, it played a complex role: food, adornment, pottery temper, landscape alteration. After colonization shell use did not disappear, and oral traditions indicate some of the ways in...

  • Visions of Substance in Eleventh Century Mid-America (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Pauketat. Susan Alt.

    Various archaeological approaches exaggerate relations with objects at the expense of the affectivity of substances, phenomena, materials, and spaces. New data from the 11th century foundations of the Cahokian world suggest that the experience of substantial, phenomenal, material and spatial qualities were the primary constituents of a form of religious conversion also known as Mississippianization. Circular buildings at the Emerald site embodied these qualities and point to the creation of...