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Fish, an important component of the Mississippian diet

Maize, the hallmark of Mississippian economy

Map showing the location of sources of exotic midwestern
materials found in Mississippian sites in the American Bottom

Given the abundance of aquatic habitats, it should come as no surprise that fish was the other major item in the Mississippian food basket (HDYK-ECON). This subsistence economy based largely on maize agriculture and fishing is only part of Mississippian economic life, however. The creation of a household surplus of food and labor; local and regional uses of the surplus; tribute to prestigious persons; trade throughout eastern North America; mound-building; and social stratification were all part of the Mississippian economy.

Sheet rolled copper from elite burial (Mound 72, Cahokia),
evidence of Mississippian trade in exotic material

An obvious indication that the Mississippian economy involved more than subsistence is the evidence that some people acquired more wealth and status than others (HDYK-SCTY). High status individuals were often buried in mounds with ornaments made from exotic materials such as marine shells, shell beads, mica, and copper, as well as finely crafted arrowheads. The numerous mounds in the American Bottom are testament to the great labor put into building monuments. The construction and maintenance of Monks mound, the largest earthen structure in pre-Columbian North America, is certainly indicative of the economic wealth and power of some segment of the American Bottom Mississippian society.

How did people of high status acquire wealth represented by these goods and mounds? Were they god-like rulers provided with offerings from commoners? Did they require payment of taxes? Were commoners required to work for and provide labor to these prestigious people as part of kinship and social obligations? Or, were they simply well-respected chiefs or leaders of successful families to whom gifts and labor were freely given?

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