Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Technique Helps Solve Mystery Of Ancient Figurines

Date:
July 7, 2003
Source:
University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
Thanks in part to new spectroscopic technology, researchers have solved a great mystery concerning some of North America's oldest pieces of sculpture.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Thanks in part to new spectroscopic technology, researchers have solved a great mystery concerning some of North America's oldest pieces of sculpture.

With the use of PIMA -- a non-invasive Portable Infrared Mineral Analyzer -- an interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has identified the source and meaning of "spectacular late prehistoric" figurines found in several locales in the South and the Southeast -- in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

According to lead researcher Thomas Emerson, an archaeologist and the director of ITARP (Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program), the figurines were made of Missouri flint clay from quarries near St. Louis. Artisans at Cahokia, the earliest and largest North American mound society, which was centered in southern Illinois, in all likelihood produced the iconic figurines in the 12th century during an "artistic explosion," but the objects were moved at various times and to various places, where they eventually were found.

There now is evidence that after they were moved, some of the flint clay icons were recarved and retrofitted as smoking pipes, indicating a radical change in their significance. "There is a vast difference between bowing to an ancestral being and smoking one," Emerson said.

The figures appear to have been disbursed only after Cahokia began to decline in the middle or late 13th century, suggesting that the transfers were associated with "the collapse of the old order." Determining when Cahokia-made figures arrived at their new locations "is an important link in the interpretive chain," the researchers wrote in the spring/summer issue of American Antiquity.

In their research, Emerson and his team analyzed 13 museum specimens originally found in the South and Southeast to identify the mineral composition of the raw material. Figures included a resting and a conquering warrior, various squatting and kneeling men, frogs and frog pipes and a "chunky" game player. Cahokian-style figurines are characterized by a highly developed realistic portrayal of human or near-human figures; they are dressed in specific costumes and shown carrying out specific deeds. Occasionally, however, they seem to portray mythical acts or beings.

The transported figures probably were used for long periods of time in their new locations. Their importance "doesn't lie in economic power but rather in symbolic and ideological power."

The association of these highly symbolic figures with Cahokia allowed the researchers to propose that many of the themes -- for example, fertility and warfare -- that later appear in Eastern Woodlands native cosmology, such as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex," were first codified in Cahokia in the 12th century."

Other researchers were Randall Hughes, Illinois State Geological Survey; Mary R. Hynes, ITARP; and Sarah U. Wisseman, Program on Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. "New Technique Helps Solve Mystery Of Ancient Figurines." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 July 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030707090954.htm>.
University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. (2003, July 7). New Technique Helps Solve Mystery Of Ancient Figurines. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030707090954.htm
University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. "New Technique Helps Solve Mystery Of Ancient Figurines." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030707090954.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) The iconic Harley-Davidson motorbike ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 classic "Easy Rider" is to go under the hammer in California, and auctioneers predict it will make at least $1 million. Duration: 01:09 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins