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Artists were particularly careful about representations of the falcon, however. Unlike depictions of most other animals, this raptor - associated with the upper (sky) world of Mississippian cosmology - is rarely presented as an entity unto itself. Rather, like the panther and serpent, it is depicted as various separate body parts. Falcon body parts such as the forked eye motif or talons are intended to symbolize an important characteristic of the animal. Also, ethnohistorical accounts make it clear that tattoos were common among eatern Native American groups. Thus, the frequent depiction of falcon symbols on people in Mississippian art suggests that these symbols were also painted or tattooed on some Mississippians not proscribed from doing so.

Peregrine falcon. Note the black "forked eye" on the head and barred wing patterns.

Copper plate of falcon dancer, Southeastern Missouri.

Shell gorget showing a chunkey player with forked-eye motif, Perry County, Missouri.

A falcon costume was apparently worn by a priest or chief. In either case, the body parts specific to the falcon - the sharp, flesh-tearing beak, the over-sized talons, the forked eye markings, the barred wing feathers, and ventral spot - are clearly indicated. In all cases, falcon images or symbols - and perhaps birds in general because of their ability to soar and enter the upper world - are believed to convey strong military, political, and chiefly characteristics.

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