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Economy Theme Activities

The daily lives of all people are strongly intertwined with how they make a living, provide for their nutritional needs, plan for economic surpluses, and deal with economic shortfalls. World view, religious practices, politics, settlement patterns, health, and technology are all influenced by a society's economy. The economy is an important interface between a social group and its natural environment. As such, economic analyses can illuminate other aspects of society and culture.

Completing the following activities will require review of information presented above in the Economy theme as well as that provided in other themes. Images, graphs, and data found in the archives should also be consulted.

Essay Questions

  1. What was the basis of the Mississippian economy? Why?
  2. When did maize first appear in Native American diets in the midwest? When was it adopted as a dietary staple? Why didn't maize become an immediate staple in the diet of Native Americans in the American Bottom?
  3. What is the significance of the oily and starchy seed complexes?
  4. Did all Mississippians have roughly the same type, quality, and amount of wealth? Was their a "middle class"? Define the archaeological evidence you use to define wealth.
  5. You live on a small farmstead 15 miles south of Cahokia. Your brother, who lives just down the ridge next to the slough, is highly regarded by you and your kin and often takes part in religious ceremonies at the nearby town with a mound. Harvests have been good over the last couple of years. Although spring and early summer rains have been heavy this year, you are happy with your spring planting and a green maize harvest looks promising. You are aware, however, that major flooding continues to ravage the vicinity of Cahokia. How might your life be effected by flooding near Cahokia so late in the planting season.
  6. Crop yields on the plot of land you have farmed for several years have been diminishing. What do you do?
  7. Some have argued that large quantities of deer were imported to Cahokia for consumption by the elite. Based on what you know about residential areas of Cahokia as well as mound-towns, and hamlets, can you define an excavation strategy to test this hypothesis? What sort of archaeological evidence would support or refute this hypothesis? What is the existing faunal evidence (hint: see data by C. Kelly in archives).
  8. Economic activities often influence world view and religious beliefs. How is this illustrated by the archaeological data for the Mississippian of the American Bottom?
  9. You are a 10 year old boy/girl and it is early spring in your hamlet on the American Bottom. Describe the daily food-getting activities of your family.
  10. Evaluate the importance of wetland resources for Mississippians. Were wetlands resources more important at one time of year?
  11. Describe how the natural resources of the American Bottom lent themselves to exploitation by most household members. Consider how the household economy might have been different in a less resource-rich environment.
  12. Discuss how some Mississippians may have gained more wealth than others? What is the likely social organizing device that structured Mississippian economy? What were likely important variables in the accumulation of wealth that are not related to material production (work to produce a surplus)?
  13. What does the presence of items with clear associations with the American Bottom such as Ramey-Incised pots and long-nosed god masks tell us about Mississippian trade? What does it tell us about the nature of politics in the American Bottom and the importance of Cahokia?
  14. The green corn harvest is known to be important for Native Americans historically, and is often celebrated with a variety of social and religious ceremonies. Why do you think the green corn harvest achieved such importance among some Native North American groups? Why might it have bee important to Mississippian society?

Observational & Hands-On Learning

  1. Ye shall reap what ye shall sow...... Students will recieve material compensation in the form of privilege tokens for good test and homework scores during the first semester. Tokens harvested during the first semester may be used to purchase privaleges (buy yourself out of a homework assignment, buy yourself out of a test, buy yourself a higher grade, buy yourself out of some disciplinary procedure, buy yourself a field-trip to the movies, etc.) the second semester. Establish the value of tokens (what they will and will not buy) at the beginning of the first semester. Students needing tokens the second semester may barter for them by preforming services for those students with a surplus of tokens. At the end of the semester tabulate the number of tokens each student has and compare these figures to grades received the first semester. What does this simple experiment tell you about the accumulation of wealth?
  2. In the fall clear a small patch of land on the edge of a forest in the floodplain. Record the species of plants you remove, the species in the forest, and the species adjacent to this forest. Return to this patch in the spring. What trees are growing there? What weeds are growing there? What does this tell you about the importance of disturbance and land-clearing in the Mississippian economy?
  3. Students can plan a weeks meals based on wild and cultivated resources available to a Mississippian farmstead in the early summer based on information provided in The Mississippian Saga of ISM's River Web module. An extension activity would be for students to cook a recipe using these ingredients.

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