Spiro Mound People, Part 1 (Society)

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

Today’s post is by guest writer Chas Stewart. Chas is doing several of these posts on interesting archeological sites around Oklahoma. Chas is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a BA in Anthropology, so that makes him imminently more qualified to write on this subject than me. Enjoy!

I’ve spent enough time talking about why you should care about this site and its tragic history but I have yet to give great details about the actual people that lived in and around Spiro and those that were so inspired to build these mounds. This seems like a mistake on my part because I have highlighted the things found and the people that found them before bothering to give voice to the people that make all those things meaningful and important. Before we move on to the description of the early settlement of Spiro, we must first reckon with the name. It’s just a name that people started to call this grouping of mounds and since archaeologists are yet unable to identify a true identity for the people then we must call them Spiroans. It has no meaning beyond this, sadly.

From the beginning, then. The Spiro settlement process began around the 800-950 A.D. period (though there is some evidence of occupation before this time). This falls on the heels of what archeologists regard as the Woodland Period (1,000 BCE to 1000 CE) and the main evidence (ceramics, points, house structures) that archaeologists find around this area is attributed to Fourche Maline farmers (and archaeologists wrap this particular type of ceramics, points and house structures in to the Fourche Maline Focus). They inhabited an area around the Fourche Maline Creek and Poteau River and it is hypothesized by Dr. Don G. Wyckoff (a legendary Oklahoman figure) that before 800-950 C.E. the lands around Spiro were uninhabited but once Fourche Maline people had exhausted their lands to the south, they began to work their way in to the “fertile bottomlands…along the Arkansas, Canadian, Illinois and Grand Rivers (The Woodland Southeast: Anderson, David G.; Mainfort, Robert C., page 97). Or maybe not. This is where I have to slay my hero worship tendencies (sorry Dr. Wyckoff) and admit that it seems unlikely that these Fourche Maline farmers would make such a drastic change in environments. This Arkansas Valley (where Spiro Mounds lie) is described as a “mosaic…of upland dry, scrubby forests” and “tallgrass prairies” (The Woodland Southeast: Anderson, David G.; Mainfort, Robert C., page 98) while the land they had inhabited up until this point was a forest of oak, hickory and pine trees which are much more suitable for the slash and burn horticulture that the Fourche Maline practiced. There is a proto-Spiro candidate known as the Gober complex. The Gober complex is a collection of 8 sites that are located 70 kilometers from the Spiro Mound settlement in the Ozark Reservoir. The Gober complex is thought to have lasted from 300 CE to the later portion of the Woodland Period (right around the time that Spiro was settled) and unlike the Fourche Maline, the Gober complex people occupied an Osage Savannah floodplain which is nearly the exact same environment as Spiro. Unfortunately, accepting this view would mean that the people who settled Spiro may not have been Caddo but would instead be Tunica as Fourche Maline is widely regarded as the progenitor of the Caddo culture and Gober complex, Tunica. This seems radical to me right now so I think I will stop dreaming about the origins until there is a more defined and compelling case.

Okay, I know that was a bit murky and you may not be satisfied but I can’t lie to you just to make our knowledge of prehistory look clean and neat. We’ve established, as best we can, what was happening around Spiro at the end of the Woodland period and now we can safely move in to a clearer time frame, the Mississippian Period. This period extends from 800 CE to 1500 CE which envelopes all of the major action happening around Spiro.

And I will delve in to that deeper in the next post.

  1. […] state. None of it was covered in depth, and of the things we’ve also written about, like the Spiro Mounds and the Holy City of the Wichitas, this site had the time and print space to go into a lot more […]

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