Ancestral Mounds

Ancestral Mounds

Vitality and Volatility of Native America

Jay Miller
Foreword by Alfred Berryhill

218 pages
2 illustrations, 1 diagram


December 2015


$55.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Ancestral Mounds deconstructs earthen mounds and myths in examining their importance in contemporary Native communities. Two centuries of academic scholarship regarding mounds have examined who, what, where, when, and how, but no serious investigations have addressed the basic question, why? Drawing on ethnographic and archaeological studies, Jay Miller explores the wide-ranging themes and variations of mounds, from those built thousands of years ago to contemporary mounds, focusing on Native southeastern and Oklahoma towns.
Native peoples continue to build and refurbish mounds each summer as part of their New Year’s celebrations to honor and give thanks for ripening maize and other crops and to offer public atonement. The mound is the heart of the Native community, which is sustained by song, dance, labor, and prayer. The basic purpose of mounds across North America is the same: to serve as a locus where community effort can be engaged in creating a monument of vitality and a safe haven in the volatile world.

Author Bio

Jay Miller is an independent researcher and writer. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography (Nebraska, 1990), Lushootseed Culture and the Shamanic Odyssey: An Anchored Radiance (Nebraska, 1999), and Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages (Nebraska, 1997). Alfred Berryhill was twice elected second chief of the Creek Nation, then head of the Cultural Preservation Office, Muscogee (Creek) Nation. 


"Fascinating, thorough, insightful, and provocative."—L. E. Sponsel, CHOICE

"Miller's rich descriptions, layering of historical and modern perspectives, and holistic viewpoint of mounds made clear that what he really seeks is collaboration and understanding. . . . An enjoyable and informative read."—Erin C. Dempsey, Great Plains Research

"As an extended meditation on the power of mound architecture and its continued significance to living, vital, communities, Ancestral Mounds is without parallel."—Matthew Jennings, Kansas History

"Highly readable, intriguing, and nuanced, Miller’s text is a valuable contribution to a growing body of scholarship highlighting the social-symbolic significance of mounds in cosmological context. . . . Ancestral Mounds: Vitality and Volatility of Native America would therefore benefit any scholar of American Indian studies."—Jessica C. Bittner, Southeastern Archaeology

"Ancestral Mounds provides us with the continuity through time of Indigenous ceremonial practices and addresses the continued struggle by Indigenous communities for recognition of their importance."—Aimee E. Carbaugh, Native American and Indigenous Studies

Ancestral Mounds is an excellent survey of updated information on earthworks . . . based on thorough research.”—Blue Clark, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, author of Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock: Treaty Rights and Indian Law at the End of the Nineteenth Century

“Jay Miller is an accomplished scholar of both traditional Native American peoples and their modern descendants. He brings fresh insights and new sense to correct old popular nonsense and outdated academic dogma regarding the profound ancestral meanings and enduring significance of earthen Indian mounds.”—Raymond D. Fogelson, senior editor of Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 14: Southeast

“Fully grounded in linguistics, archaeology, and ethnography, this exciting book rethinks the history of humans and nature.”—Laura Dassow Walls, author of The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America

“Jay Miller provides a thought-provoking ethnographic interpretation of the religious nature of mound building in eastern North America.”—Brice Obermeyer, author of Delaware Tribe in a Cherokee Nation

“Miller has a unique and valuable perspective on mounds, also known as earthen forms. I have tried to describe prehistoric mounds as fossil rituals. Miller describes them as ongoing phenomena and also broadens basic definitions.”—Robert L. Hall, author of An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual 

Table of Contents





Archaeological Time Frame

Kinship Codes

Graphic Codes

1. Mounding Up

2. Breaking Ground

3. SEeing Mounds

4. Modern Mounding

5. Mounds in Full




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