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James A. Brown

Professor Emeritus

PhD Chicago 1965

Research and teaching interests

Archaeology of complex societies; study of burial practices through the ages; iconography and religion in archaeology, Eastern North America.


Jim Brown is an archaeologist with broad interests in the aboriginal cultures of the North America, past and present. His research has been directed towards detailed examination of social and cultural complexity in the Eastern Woodlands of North America. Critical to this endeavor has been an effort to move the archaeological debate from typically parochial concerns to a globally based framework that allows the archaeological record of the Eastern Woodlands to be examined cross-culturally. Currently, he has been concentrating on religious and social changes over the past 1000 years. Iconography has been employed as a route to the study of religion, canonical representation and craft specialization.

He is a recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Park Service and various state agencies.

Major research projects have involved the Spiro Mounds (Mississippian Period, OK), Mound City (Hopewell Period, OH), Koster site (Archaic Period, IL), and Cahokia (Mississippian Period, IL) as well as with fieldwork in historical archaeology at Ft. Michilimackinac (MI), and the Grand Village of the Kaskaskia (Zimmerman) (IL).

His books include The Spiro Ceremonial Center: The Archaeology of Arkansas Valley Caddoan Culture in Eastern Oklahoma (1996); the six-volume Pre-Columbian Shell Engravings from Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma. (1975-83) (co-authored with Philip Phillips); Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians (co-authored with D. S. Brose and D. W. Penney) (1985), an edited memoir, Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. (1971); a co-edited book (with T. D. Price), Prehistoric Hunters and Gatherers: The Emergence of Cultural Complexity (1985), and other co-edited works.

He has served on museum exhibit planning for the Museum of American Indian (2006), the Hero, Hawk and Open Hand exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago (2004), and the new museum exhibits at Moundville Archaeological Park, Moundville AL  (2004-5)

He has served a Chair of the Department of Anthropology (1989-1995).

He serves on the board of directors of the Center for American Archeology (Kampsville), and has served as commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Commission, the Board of directors of the Illinois State Museum (including chairman of the board). 

Holder of the 1999 Distinguished Service Award from the Society for American Archaeology, and the Clarence L. Ver Steeg Graduate Faculty Award (2004).

He is a member of the Registry of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) and a Certified Professional Archaeologist in Illinois.

Current projects

Eight years of fieldwork is under way at the World Heritage site of Cahokia to settle key issues that have plagued our understanding of critical transformations that have taken place at this site. Excavation under the project direction of Dr. John E. Kelly of Washington University at St. Louis entails redocumentation of the context of ‘high-end’ craftwork in marine shell and native copper that was uncovered by 1950s excavations into Mound 34. The project focuses on documenting with greater precision the context and dating of the famous engraved marine shell pieces found there. They are important in fixing the cultural context of craft specialization that burst into the archaeological record around 1200 C.E. The result was the art form known by the name of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. The time is one in which change towards greater complexity was taking place in Cahokian society. This research has demystified the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex and has made it more intelligible from a cross-cultural perspective by relating it to political, religious and economic changes taking place at the site.

A book project with a working title of “Red Horn’s Quest” is under way that details changes in the social and cultural function of display goods and associated shifts in iconographic content

Recent courses taught  

  • 101   Freshman Seminar – Who Owns the Past?
  • 112   New Directions in Archaeology
  • 214   Cultural Origins
  • 301   Archaeology of Hunters and Gatherers
  • 311   Indians of North America
  • 381   North American Prehistory
  • 390   Archaeology of Death
  • 422   Advanced Seminar – Archaeological Methods and Theory

Selected Publications 

The Regional Culture Signature of the Braden Art Style. In Visualizing the Sacred: Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World. G. E. Lankford, F. K. Reilly and J. Garber (eds) , pp. 37-63. University of Texas Press, Austin. (2011)

Cosmological Layouts of Secondary Burials as Political Instruments. In Mississippian Mortuary Practices: Beyond Hierarchy and the Representationist Perspective. L. Sullivan and R. Mainfort (eds), pp. 30-52. University of Florida Press. (2010) 

The Context of Religion at Cahokia: The Mound 34 Case.  (by J. E. Kelly, J. A. Brown and L.S. Kelly) In Religion in the Material World.  L. Fogelin (ed), pp. 297-318. CAI, SIU Carbondale. (2008) 

Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices in the Third Millennium AD: 1966-2006.  In Performing Death: Social Analyses of Funerary Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean.  N. Laneri (ed), pp. 305-314.  3rd Annual U. of Chicago Oriental Institute Seminar. (2007) 

Chronological Implications of the Bellows-shaped Apron. In Chronology, Iconography, and Style: Current Perspectives on the Social and Temporal Contexts of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.  A. King (ed), pp. 38-56.  University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.  (2007)

Eventful Archaeology: The Place of Space in Structural Transformation.  (by R. A. Beck, D. J. Bollander, J. A. Brown and T. K. Earle) Current Anthropology 48: 833-860.  (2007) 

On the Identity of the Birdman within Mississippian Period Art and Iconography.  In Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms: Interpretations of Mississippian Iconography.  F. K. Reilly and J. F. Garber (eds), pp. 56-106.  University of Texas Press, Austin.  (2007) 

Severed Heads and Sacred Scalplocks: Mississippian Iconographic Trophies.  (by J. Brown and D. Dye) In The Taking and Displaying of Human Body Parts as Trophies by Americans, edited by R. J. Chacon and D. H. Dye (eds), pp. 274-294.  Kluwer Academic/Plenum. (2007)

The Social House in Pre-Contact Southeast.  In The Durable House: Architecture, Ancestors, and Origins. R. Beck (ed), pp. 227-247.  CAI, SIU-Carbondale.  (2007)

Where's the Power in Mound Building? - An Eastern Woodland Perspective.  In Leadership and Polity in Mississippian Society.  B. M. Butler and P.D. Welch (eds), pp. 197-213. CAI, SIU Carbondale. (2006)

Reflections on Taxonomic Practice.  In Woodland Period Systematics in the Middle Ohio Valley: The Good Servant and Bad Master. D. Applegate and R.C. Mainfort, Jr. (eds), pp. 111-119. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.  (2005) 

The Cahokia Expansion: Creating Court and Cult.  In The Hero, Hawk, and the Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South.  R. Townsend and R. Sharp (eds), pp. 108-127. Art Institute of Chicago (2004) 

Exchange and Interaction to A.D. 1500.  Handbook for North American Indians, Volume 14-Southeast.  R.D. Fogelson (ed), pp. 677-685. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (2004)

Michilimackinac Archaeology and the Organization of Trade at a Distance.  In An Upper Great Lakes Archaeological Odyssey. W. Lovis (ed), pp. 150-182.  Cranbrook Institute of Science (2004) 

Mound City and Issues in the Developmental History of Hopewell Culture in the Ross County Area of Southern Ohio.  In Aboriginal Ritual and Economy in the Eastern Woodlands.  A-M. Cantwell, L.A. Conrad and J. E. Reyman (eds), pp. 147-168. Illinois State Museum, Springfield (2004)