Skip to comments.Swansea woman donates birdman tablet to Mounds[Illinois]
Posted on 04/07/2007 8:00:18 AM PDT by Dacb
Archaeologists aren't sure why Mississippian Indians engraved small sandstone tablets with birdman images and crosshatching 1,000 years ago.
Maybe the tablets were used as visual aids for spiritual storytelling. Maybe they were dipped in dye and stamped on deerskin to create patterns.
"Maybe (a tablet) was displayed when you were traveling from one place to another," said Bill Iseminger, assistant site manager at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville. "It was a passport to show your rank or status or authority."
Whatever their purpose, the tablets are considered archaeologically significant because they provide rare pictures from an ancient culture.
Cahokia Mounds has a newly discovered Mississippian tablet, thanks to Elizabeth Kassly, 50, of Swansea, who donated it to the historic site. It's now on display in the interpretive-center lobby.
"I think it was just meant to be at Cahokia Mounds," said Kassly, a contract archaeologist with Powell Archaeological Research Center in Fairmont City. "Because of its potential, because of the stories it can tell."
The tablet actually is half a tablet because one side is broken off. It's about the size of a playing card, only thicker. It's estimated at 800 years old.
Kassly found the tablet in 2000 while surface collecting on a farm near Valmeyer in her free time. It's known as the Kassly-Schaefer Birdman Tablet because Vernon Schaefer owns the farm.
The front shows a birdman's dotted torso, fringed kilt-like garment and outstretched right wing, and a rattlesnake-like image across the top. Crosshatching covers the back.
"Birdman symbolism of similar hawk or falcon dancers is common in Mississippian iconography," according to interpretive materials. "... The meaning here is not clear with part of the left side and the head missing and the snake element in place of it, but raptorial birds are known to represent the 'upperworld' (spiritual world), humans 'this world' and snakes the 'underworld.'"
Cahokia Mounds is the former location of an American Indian city that flourished from about 950 to 1350 with a peak population of 15,000 to 20,000 residents known as Mississippians.
The historic site has portions of several sandstone tablets, but only one that's whole. It was found during a 1971 archaeological dig near Monks Mound.
That tablet is engraved with a different birdman image. It serves as the historic site's logo and appears on area highway bridges.
Officials believe the Kassly-Schaefer Birdman Tablet may have been engraved in the Cahokia Mounds area. The Mississippian artist probably used a flint tool.
"The thought is, maybe (tablets) were made here and distributed or carried to other places as Cahokia's influence spread," Iseminger said. "It could have even been like missionaries spreading the word about their beliefs."
Contact reporter Teri Maddox at firstname.lastname@example.org or 345-7822, ext. 26.
The mound builder culture was destroyed by global cooling.
Early version of a credit card?
A stamp used in ancient scrapbooking? Oh my, the list could be endless.
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Fascinating. Thank you for the ping.
These must be some slow witted right-wing scientists. Obviously the "bird-man" image represents the Sky (climate) god Allgoar and these tablets are carbon credits used to offset the damage done by killing corn, gourd and bean plants.
birdman cults were also popular on easter island for a time
In the 1970s there was a Birdland cult for a while when the first Weather Report album came out. ;’)
yes yes the bird is the word.
The hawkman from Buck Rogers - I remember that show! Are the eps available on DVD?
BTW, the guy that played Hawk on Buck Rogers came to Pittsburgh for a Sci Con, this was like twenty-five years ago, and a friend of mine was in charge of picking the actor up at the airport and showing him around town, and he said this person was very nice, very personable to everyone. (Thought I'd throw in that little snippet.)
My first thought on reading the title was this has something to do with The Birdman of Alcatraz, LOL!
The actor is Thom Christopher. That is a cool “brush with fame” story. It is good to hear about an actor or actress who has not forgotten that they are a human being.
I watched the show dutifully when I was a kid both when it originally aired and when it entered into syndication. Thanks to that show, I still have this thing about women in spandex (especially Erin Grey).
SciFi runs a day of them, every now and then. I’ll pop in an 8-hour tape, and fast forward to the “better” epis, or ones I don’t remember.
"We asked, 'Are trying to tell us something????'"
Thanks for the info that the Sci Fi channel runs the old “Buck Rogers” TV show eps. I’ll try to catch them when they’re on, because the price that Amazon is asking is pretty high.
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