Music & Ritual: Bridging Material & Living Cultures

Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology, Vol. 1

Membrane Drums as Cosmic Symbols and Shamanic Portals in the Shell Art of Spiro, a Mississippian Mound Site in Oklahoma

James A. Rees, Jr.

A recent examination of some engraved shell gorgets from the Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma has revealed possible depictions of membrane drums. Using ethnohistoric and ethnographic analogy this paper argues that these iconographic images confirm the presence and importance of both vessel drums and handheld frame drums in pre-Columbian Mississippian Culture. Vessel drums appear to have been important symbolic components of Mississippian cosmology and along with frame drums may have been used in shamanic rituals as portals into spiritual realms.

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