History of the United States in 100 Objects # 2: Statuette of a Farming Goddess, ca. 1100 AD (Episode #63)

Found in Monroe County, Illinois, made of bauxite or “flint clay”, dated to early 12th century AD. We consider the statuette of a woman tearing into the back of a serpent (known to archaeologists as the Birger Figurine), which was found broken in pieces and buried in a pit outside of a small village site in Illinois. The figurine, despite its small size and condition, is the most exquisite piece of art surviving from the Mississippian civilization, a massive and powerful urban society that dominated the interior of North America for more than three hundred years before falling into decline and obscurity. The statuette most likely represents a goddess of death and rebirth that presided over the Mississippians’ prosperous golden age. Suggested Further reading: Timothy Pauketat, “Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians”; Reilly and Garber, “Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms”; Guy Prentice, “An Analysis of the Symbolism Expressed by the Birger Figurine.”

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