Colour symbolism permeated the world of indigenous North America. This symbolism was often tied to the cosmos where the earth was viewed as a quadrilateral disk and each of the four cardinal directions was linked with a colour array such as red, white, black, and blue. We suggest that the recurring use of certain colours and colour contrasts comprised a suite of long-term historical practices that were essential for reproducing certain views about the world and about being in the world. Further, the rendering of colour had a plasticity that allowed it to enter a discourse about daily life that was intertwined with notions of the long-term. As a case study, we focus on well-known ceramic head effigies in the central Mississippi Valley to argue that their veneers of contrasting red and white were imbued with a notion of time immemorial that converged with other conceptions of temporality, most importantly, a pressing concern with regional violence, personal safety, and spiritual integrity.
Published in Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Volume 18, Issue 1, 2008, pages 85-93.
© 2008 by The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research