Dickson Mounds Acquires Important Artifact
During the Mississippian period, ceremonial maces were elite objects, reserved for those who wielded the highest authority. Accordingly, these maces are rare; only five have been found in Illinois. And now, thanks to a donation from the Virginia Jarrell Burke trust, Dickson Mounds Museum has one of these objects for its exhibit on Mississippian Culture.
W.D. Martin discovered the mace in 1915 while plowing a field in Pike County next to the Illinois River. Martin's son-in-law, J. F. Jarrell, obtained the mace and took it to Colorado. It remained in his, then his daughter's, possession for the next 89 years, despite interest shown by the Smithsonian Institution and requests from collectors to purchase it. With the passing of Virginia Jarrell Burke, the heirs of the Jarrell estate decided to return this important remanant of Illinois' prehistoric culture to its home state. On the recommendation of Ray Fraser of Schaumburg, Illinois, the heirs chose Dickson Mounds Museum as a repository because of its focus on Mississippian Culture and its location (only 60 miles from where the mace was found).
Images of maces appear in a variety of Mississippian art forms, such as pottery vessels, rock art, copper plates, and marine shell gorgets and engraved cups. The contexts in which maces are shown suggest that leaders used them in ritual to symbolize authority and power. Conquering heroes are shown wielding maces in dramatic action poses, while vanquished foes are symbolized by broken maces. Although the mace was most likely not used as a literal weapon, its shape, something between that of a battle axe and scepter, speaks to superiority and dominion - essential attributes of a ruler in warrior society.
DMM's new acquisition, dating to circa AD 1200 - 1400, measures just under 12 inches long and is chipped out of Mill Creek chert, which is found in Union County Illinois. Remaining traces of white pigment suggest that sides were painted opposing colors, a trait observed on other maces. This decorative element further underscores its ritual functions, which in turn are representative of the supernatural connections that ultimately maintained the power of the Mississippian social order.