Much of our Chickasaw culture, as well as that of dozens of other southern and eastern tribes, descends from the Mississippian Civilization. This economic and political structure greatly influenced and shaped our culture.
The Mississippians lived in more complex societies than their Woodland ancestors. Families were divided into high and low social rank and had a permanent leader. With increases in corn production, there was a food surplus that supported larger populations and social order.
Trading became an important part of our way of life; travel ranged from coast to coast.
Clans (based on matriarchal lineage) were an organizing force from this Mississippian era until the late 1800s. As Chickasaws, we believe The Creator (Aba' Binni'li',“sitting above”) gave them the need for the clan system with special animal guides: deer, bird, bear, fish, turtle, raccoon, skunk, wolf, panther, squirrel and alligator. These clans determined Chickasaw social organization.
Mound building evolved from round-shaped domes used exclusively for burial for important tribal members to rectangular, flat-topped mounds that served as platforms for temples or residences of important leaders. Important mounds included the Moundville site (near Tuscaloosa), and Emerald Mound along the Natchez Trace Parkway (the second largest mound). Located in what is now Oklahoma, Spiro Mounds was a trade center and ancient warehouse for the Southeast and Southwest. Other mounds include Wickliffe Mounds (Kentucky), Shiloh Mounds (Tennessee), Pharr Mounds (Mississippi) and Ingomar Mounds (Mississippi).