Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
Symbolically charged ceramic rim-effigy bowls, characterized by figural head and tail adornments, are hallmarks of the Late Mississippian period in the central Mississippi River valley (CMV). Hundreds of whole rim-effigy bowls, most often depicting serpents, birds, or humans, have been collected at sites from southeastern Missouri to northwestern Mississippi. However, a comprehensive iconographic analysis of the CMV rim-effigy bowl corpus – specifically focused on visual style and theme – has never been conducted. A systematic review of the corpus’s imagery suggests that CMV rim-effigy bowls acted as materializations of the Mississippian cosmos, reinforcing the principle of cosmic balance. Further, given discrete concentrations of bowl styles and themes across the region, localized religious collectives – perhaps sodalities – may have produced their own rim-effigy bowls for use during charter rites or ceremonies. More broadly, by reviewing an understudied ceramic corpus, this study furthers understandings of Mississippian art and iconography in the CMV and beyond.