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MSU Archaeologist Asks 'Was Wickliffe a Native American Cathedral Town in 1250?'

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Mounds and Priests, Cathedrals and Popes... Unlock the secrets of the Wickliffe Mounds in a presentation by archaeologist Dr. Kit Wesler at the McCracken County Public Library's Evenings Upstairs program tomorrow night (July 24) at 7. We get a preview on Sounds Good.

Dr. Wesler is Murray State's Jesse D. Jones Endowed Professor of Geosciences. He has spent a large part of his career working to identify what the archeological record tells us from a perspective assessed equally with historical documentation. The Archaeological problem, he says, is that when we're studying literate cultures we often look at documentation first and then archaeology as an illustration, whereas in North American pre-history, for example, we don't have documentation and can only make assessments through archaeology.

"There's this sort of post North American conquest idea that Native American cultures were not able to develop in very complex ways. Archaelogically we know that's not true, and yet we're still reluctant to make that cross-Atlantic comparison and I think there's and underlying bias if not racism there."

How would we look at medieval church symbols without already knowing the context of Christian iconography?

On his return from a sabbatical in Rome, Dr. Wesler wondered, what if there's a priest in Wickliffe like there's a Pope in Rome? We know that there is a Pope in Rome because he's there and because there is written documentation of past Popes. But what there wasn't currently a Pope and no written text detailing the history of the Catholic church? How much of the Pope would we find through fossil records? How would this change our understanding of Medieval Europe?


The argument that's stalled research for 50 years

Wickliffe Mounds share similarities with other mounds of the Mississippian cultures namely nearby Cahokia, the largest Native American site in the United States, which is about 100 times the size of the Wickliffe site. Both of these were either ceremonial or administrative centers between 1,100 and 1,350 AD. The question is: Was Cahokia a political capital with socio-political and religious power over a large region or merely an overgrown village? Dr. Wesler draws the comparison to the Medieval religious church of roughly the same time period by the fact that while the Pope did not have political power except for over a small area (like, for instance, a religious leader in Cahokia), but claimed spiritual power over a wide area (like a priest in Wickliffe). Mississippian cultures have a lot of linguistic and ethnic variation much like Medieval Europe, but could have been held together, like Europe was, by a singular spiritual administrative power.

Presentation Info

Dr. Kit Wesler presents Mounds and Priests, Cathedrals and Popes: Was Wickliffe a Native American Cathedral Town in AD 1250? at McCracken County Public Library's Evenings Upstairs on Thursday, July 24 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Wickliffe Mounds website

McCracken County Public Library Facebook page

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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