Barker presenting ‘Making Mississippian Meanings’

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For The Arkadelphian


Dr. Alex Barker will present “Making Mississippian Meanings” at the next meeting of the Ouachita Chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society. This talk will be held on Tuesday, May 3, at 7 p.m. in the board room at Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, 200 Whittington Ave., Hot Springs. It is free and open to the public.

Interpreting meaning in art is always perilous, even in familiar contexts where we know the artist, his or her views and writings about a work, the social and political context in which it was created, and how the work was received by its intended audiences.

In prehistoric contexts like those of the so-called Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, where the artist is unknown, their beliefs conjectural, contexts debatable, and reception at best imagined and at worst unknowable, how can we find meanings that are more than just-so stories?

Mississippian period shell ornaments engraved with spider motifs. 

In this talk, Barker will explore ways to draw supportable inferences that help make sense of individual motifs from the ancient American midcontinent and, by understanding how these motifs are arranged in individual artworks or artifacts, lets us better understand the larger meanings these motifs and objects reference.

Barker is director of the Arkansas Archeological Survey. He previously served as director of the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri; curator of North American archaeology and vice president for collections, research and exhibitions at the Milwaukee Public Museum; and curator of archaeology at the Dallas Museum of Natural History (now the Perot Museum). He’s past President of the American Anthropological Association, a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and a graduate of the Getty Museum Leadership Institute. He was an Obama-era appointee to the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Review Committee, and is a peer-elected Expert Member of two ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites) International Scientific Committees, ISC for Archaeology and Heritage Management and ISC for Earthen Architectural Heritage.

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