Mississippi: The Seventh Cradle of Civilization

Thank you! I'm excited to keep working on it.

That's a good question. The short answer is that some things might come faster, and others more slowly than in the old world. The pound lock for example I think is going to be developed much earlier than in the old world, thanks to the even greater importance of the navigable rivers. In many ways, I'm modelling the development on China, as I think the geography will encourage some similar developments. The greater contact between the Mississippi, Mesoamerica, and other regional centers may help with speeding up developments too. We'll just have to see.


I think its worth stating that Tussar silk isn't necessarily inferior silk, its just a different fabric. Antheraea silk is more textured, and in that way rougher than Bombyx silk (which is obviously quite smooth). Ultimately, that comes down to their diet of oak leaves more than anything, and there's not much that can be done to change that. Its just the nature of what they're eating. This comes with its own benefits as well, such as its rich color, and some extent that texture itself is a benefit.


Also, the Behind the Scenes post is basically ready. Expect that on Tuesday or so. The Middle Mississippian Crops post is coming along nicely and should be ready within a week as well, if not sooner.
I suppose that does make sense. And looking at wikipedia I imagine than that the bit about Tussar silk being less durable than Chinese silk due to their shorter strands is at least mitigated since it seems Tussar silk is mostly produced from wild silk if I understand it correctly whereas the Mississippian Silkworm has the larger cocoons that Chinese silkworms have.
 
Last edited:
Gwyain, when are we right now? Around what date? Thanks. Forgive this aging brain for forgetting if you have already told us.
The Middle Mississippian Period stretches from 8,000-4,500 BP (or 6,000 BC to 2,500 BC). I've edited the date ranges into the Table of Contents as well. I'm being somewhat intentionally vague with exact dates right now as a stylistic choice to try to replicate the idea the archaeology isn't entirely clear, just as in real life. Those ranges are shrinking with each archaeological period (as we saw the Early Mississippian last from 12,000 to 8,000 BP and the Late Misissippian will last 4,500 to 3,000 BP), and eventually we'll get to the historical period after the Late Mississippian where I'll start being much more specific on dates.
 
Behind the Scenes 2: Whys and Why Nots
Behind the Scenes 2: Whys and Why Nots

There's two big questions I want to answer as part of this behind the scenes: namely why not deer, and why not turkey? The answer for both is at least in part: pigs. I'll tackle turkey first, as they're much more directly effected by pigs and then go to deer which have other reasons.

So, why not turkey? In part, oak savannas aren't the perfect habitat for turkeys, they prefer a bit of underbrush to hide their nesting sites in. That isn't to say this isn't present on the savannas at all, but its less common than in more mixed woodlands. The bigger problem though is that New World Pigs compete pretty heavily with turkey for food. They have a high degree of dietary overlap and even worse, pigs are opportunistic egg predators and turkey ground nesting birds. This is a real problem in parts of the American South where feral pig populations are common as they outcompete and predate on Turkey and other grouse. Combined with the savannas not being their ideal habitat means they simply aren't common. Ordinarily that might be a good option for the prey pathway, which was how turkey were domesticated OTL in Mesoamerica, but they don't have enough of a separate niche to make that particularly worthwhile. Pigs take up such an important role in Mississippian agriculture that turkey simply can't find a niche.

That does lead to a question of what I'll do with turkey, since they're a comparably recent domesticated animal (around 2-3000 BP) and pigs will be reaching Mesoamerica long before then. Part of me wants to include them still, but another part thinks that not having one of the most iconic domesticated animals of the Americas would be an interesting knock on effect of the timeline, and I think it would make sense as well. We'll see, I've not made a final decision on this one yet.

Why not deer then? Again, in part this has to do with pigs. Similar to turkey, deer populations are lower in areas of feral pigs, as the two compete to a degree for food, since pigs are broad spectrum omnivores and deer broad spectrum browsers. The bigger problem though has to do with diet. There aren't any domesticated browsers that went down the prey pathway, and very few domesticated browsers in general. Those few that did were all domesticated through the directed pathway significantly later on. Honestly, we can only speculate as to why that is, the most common thought being that browsers compete much more directly with agriculture than do grazers. Even pigs, who are broad spectrum omnivores, saw a decline in use following the introduction of agriculture at Hallan Çemi, likely due to increased competition with agriculture. Browsers target many of the same plants as humans do, and also target young growth as well, both of which are detrimental to agriculture.

We will still see some browsers later on through the directed pathway, I've already teased at the moose for example, but white tailed deer don't offer the same value that moose do in the face of existing domesticated animals. All told, this is probably a good thing for the Mississippians, as white tailed deer are the primary host to meningeal worm which is quite lethal to wapiti and moose, and are also a prime host of the prion that causes chronic wasting disease. They still see use as hunted animals, much as other deer have in Eurasia, but won't be domesticated.

Notes on Oak, and why Black Oak?
Oak is particularly well adapted to frequent fires, and as a result its one of the most prevalent trees in savannas and on prairies. East of the Rocky's the two predominant species in such fire regimes are the Black Oak (Quercus velutina) in the south and the Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in the north. As the Mississippians are largely in the range of the Black rather than Bur Oak, it’s the one seeing use. Black Oak acorns are also some of the most preferred acorns as they generally contain less tannins (a fact which is also true in the west with the closely related California Black Oak).

The breeding for lower tannins is an extremely slow process, and one which isn't ever completely eliminated. Acorn tannins are coded for in a large number of genes, so its complicated to do even with modern understanding of genetics. Its made worse by the fact that oaks take a long time to grow, and they aren't actually growing directly from acorns most of the time (not to say this stops seed broadcasting either). Oak saplings are top killed by fire for the first several years of their lives until they develop an extensive root system and can finally grow fast enough to survive fire and reach maturity. This makes selection a longer process all around. Fortunately, there's thousands of years of time to work with owing to the importance of oak to the Mississippians, so selective pressure can still take place. The big change is selection for larger acorn size. This is one of the biggest hallmarks of domesticated plants and is much easier to select for than tannin reduction.

The importance of oak isn't something I'd initially planned. Its been a pretty organic development from the upland farming techniques, and has only continued to gain importance with advances in agroforestry and animal domestication. That's going to continue on in the Late Mississippian and Historical Period with some other advances that will utilize oak even more. As it is currently, it already represents food, fertility, shelter, clothing, and warmth; as such, I think it makes a perfect religious symbol. It still a bit early for me to be developing too much about religion, but I think I'll be heavily incorporating it somehow as a result.

Bison
As I've mentioned, the choice to include domesticated bison threw off some of my plans, especially on the great plains. I had originally intended the plains to remain largely the domain of specialized bison hunters for a long while, but domesticated bison changes all of that as instead of being hunted, they'll be herded. That creates a very different population on the plains and will likely have some impacts to the Mississippians. It’s a decision that I still think is the right one though, as they have a different size and dietary niche from wapiti, and they use very similar habitat. The idea of only doing one, but not the other really didn't make much sense when the same sort of selective pressure existed for both in the fire ecosystems of the savannas.

As for why they weren't domesticated in our world: large prey pathway taxa came after medium sized ones. This is generally backed up by the current research in domestication. The aurochs came after pig, sheep, and goats in Eurasia. In the Americas in this timeline, it was proceeded by the New World Pig (the peccary), which gave the necessary experience with animal husbandry to use for larger animal management.

Silkworms

There's actually quite a few species of moths that produce silk and are native to North America. I'd been considering a few for a while, but settled on Antheraea polyphemus for a few reasons. The first of which is that Antheraea spp. are pretty widely cultivated for silk, known as Tussar Silk, so its comparatively easy to find information on them and their silk. The other reason is that while they don't prefer oak in the wild, they will use it when its what is locally available. Due to the prevalence and importance of oak for the Mississippians, they make a much better candidate than other options.
 
Here's the second Behind the Scenes post. Next up on the schedule is a brief summary of the Middle Mississippian Crops. That's almost ready and I'm planning to have that ready by the weekend. Then we'll start on some about the Southwest. Its already looking like that will be a few posts, at least.
 
There aren't any domesticated browsers that went down the prey pathway

Not that I'm knocking the decision-I think there is generally a good reason why people IOTL didn't domesticate deer-but what about goats? Didn't they get domesticated through the prey pathway?
 
Not that I'm knocking the decision-I think there is generally a good reason why people IOTL didn't domesticate deer-but what about goats? Didn't they get domesticated through the prey pathway?
Goats are intermediate feeders rather than full browsers. They do consume browse, but to a much smaller degree than do true browsers like deer, and still utilize a great deal of grass and pasture. The first image below shows a summary dietary comparisons of various range herbivores which illustrates this rather well, and the second gives an overview of where goats fall on Shipley's Browser-Grazer continuum model.

1718122739309.png

1718122958109.png

Truthfully, the only domesticated browser I can think of at all is the Reindeer.
 
Last edited:
With you not including turkey at least in the beginning I think it would be interesting. I somewhat disagree with turkey having the same food profile with new world pigs though, as pigs are a lot more 'waste disposal' while turkeys are more 'animals you let on fallow fields'. Turkeys do occupy a different niche than pigs when it comes to what they eat. Not to mention turkeys also eat insects which the pigs don't eat as much due to obvious reasons. I think turkey and other bird domesticates like moscovy duck have a good chance of still being domesticated as per otl.

Actually, I do want to ask if we could see Canada geese and maybe mallard duck domestication from the Mississippi agricultural package. As agriculture spreads to the lowlands and we get native rice domestication and rice paddies/bogs geese and ducks seem to be a natural response to dealing with pests.

Also any thoughts on mink and crayfish domestication? As said I think mink would be good against muskrats which build burrows right beside banks; and would be a good ferret analogue. Crayfish seem like something that would thrive in rice bogs too, and they could be harvested more like plants when the fields are drained.
 
Goats are not native to the Americas, so it would be difficult to domesticate them.
There might be confusion here, as twovultures and I were talking about whether goats are browsers or not, and how that applies to deer domestication. To state clearly: goats are not in the new world, and will not be until a columbian style exchange millennia out from now, and White tailed deer will not be domesticated either (in part due to there diet as browsers), as stated in the behind the scenes post.
With you not including turkey at least in the beginning I think it would be interesting. I somewhat disagree with turkey having the same food profile with new world pigs though, as pigs are a lot more 'waste disposal' while turkeys are more 'animals you let on fallow fields'. Turkeys do occupy a different niche than pigs when it comes to what they eat. Not to mention turkeys also eat insects which the pigs don't eat as much due to obvious reasons. I think turkey and other bird domesticates like moscovy duck have a good chance of still being domesticated as per otl.
Pigs do fill a waste disposal role, which I'll talk about more eventually, but they're also very widely used as foraging livestock. The cultivation methods used for the new world pig very closely resembles feral pig rearing. In that role, that have tremendous dietary overlap with turkey, and that's a very real problem where feral pigs exist in the American Southeast today. Pigs and turkey both predominately feed on mast, and due to their larger size, pigs simply eat more of it. They also eat fruits, roots, and many of the same insects and invertebrates as turkey, not completely identical, but there is an enormous amount of overlap and pigs put serious competitive pressure on turkey. Combined with egg predation, they significantly depress turkey populations where they're present.
Actually, I do want to ask if we could see Canada geese and maybe mallard duck domestication from the Mississippi agricultural package. As agriculture spreads to the lowlands and we get native rice domestication and rice paddies/bogs geese and ducks seem to be a natural response to dealing with pests.
Probably, but we're still a long ways out. Neither of these is going to be happening until Zizania does.
Also any thoughts on mink and crayfish domestication? As said I think mink would be good against muskrats which build burrows right beside banks; and would be a good ferret analogue. Crayfish seem like something that would thrive in rice bogs too, and they could be harvested more like plants when the fields are drained.
Crayfish are... complicated. They do thrive in wild rice paddies, but they're also major pests of it. They can depredate filds very quickly and breach levies with their burrowing. There's ways to raise them where they aren't such a nuisance though, as I'll touch on when we get to Zizania. Domesticated they will not be, but cultivated to some extent.

Minks... I'm not fond of. Muskrats are only a seasonal nuisance to paddy dykes and don't cause big yield losses anyways. Minks are also a problem for raising fish and ducks, as they'll take both too. And honestly, I think people vastly overstate how important a "verminator" is to begin with. Contrary to popular opinion, cats are terrible at lowering amounts of rodents in fields (and rodents are rarely the biggest source of yield loss anyways), as we saw in the many parts of the world that didn't have cats which did perfectly fine. Even the grey fox I mentioned way early isn't particularly important - there's a reason I've not really talked about it since. Its just cute and its plausible enough (see the relate Channel Island Fox for an example that may have been semi-domesticated), but it isn't actually useful.
 
Excuse you, a fluffy cat/fox being petted by someone and cuddled with is extremely useful...Just think of all the ITTL youtube videos added by having cute fox videos alongside OTL's and ITTL's cute cat videos! :p
 
Binged this today, really liked it. One of the most plausible and grounded 'North American early agriculture' TLs I've read. The addition of an alternate silkworm makes a ton of sense and shows how well thought out and interconnected all of the pieces are.

Question, what has been the ecological toll of this massive increase in human habitation along with mass decrease in forest cover in the area? I imagine lots of species in the region are taking huge losses to their population numbers and diversity as they are replaced with domesticants. Could any go extinct? I must concede I don't know much about the species native to the Mississippi river delta, but I can't imagine the story would be any different from any other part of the world where humans transitioned to subsistence agriculture. I could see the American Bison going the same fate as the Eurasian Bison, being slowly but surely pushed to the margins by humans until it is on near-extinction level numbers by the industrial revolution.
 
Quick note, on further reflection, I've decided to remove the medicinal variety of ahacampa and have made a slight edit to Agroforestry Part 1 as a result. I just don't think it makes enough sense to maintain the medicinal variety, and I don't think the cassava comparison works well enough, as cyanogenic glycosides are much easier to remove with proper cooking than resin glycosides. Hopefully this will be the last retcon going forward.

Binged this today, really liked it. One of the most plausible and grounded 'North American early agriculture' TLs I've read. The addition of an alternate silkworm makes a ton of sense and shows how well thought out and interconnected all of the pieces are.
Thank you! I reall appreciate hearing that!
Question, what has been the ecological toll of this massive increase in human habitation along with mass decrease in forest cover in the area? I imagine lots of species in the region are taking huge losses to their population numbers and diversity as they are replaced with domesticants. Could any go extinct? I must concede I don't know much about the species native to the Mississippi river delta, but I can't imagine the story would be any different from any other part of the world where humans transitioned to subsistence agriculture. I could see the American Bison going the same fate as the Eurasian Bison, being slowly but surely pushed to the margins by humans until it is on near-extinction level numbers by the industrial revolution.
The decrease in forest cover is less than you might think. Fire setting is a very old technique in the Americas and was widely practiced in the pre-columbian period. There was actually a big increase in closed canopy forests after contact due to the large population decline brought on by disease, and hence less fire setting. As far as possible extinctions, nothing so far (or at least only locally). Certain species are even benefiting substantially from this fire setting, obviously bison, wapiti, and peccary are, but so are a number of birds like the passenger pigeon and morning dove. Grouse (including the turkey and prairie chicken) aren't having the best time around the Mississippians (mostly due to pigs/peccary rather than fire), but are unlikely to go extinct when so much of the continent still provides good habitat for them, but they are locally reduced. On the bison front, I'm not certain what the future holds, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to see it follow the aurochs into extinction eventually. Otherwise, I haven't considered much though.
 
New Crops of the Middle Mississippian Period New
New Crops of the Middle Mississippian Period

Oak (Quercus velutina and Quercus spp.)

Domesticated by 7,000 BP (5,000 BC), cultivated much earlier.

While certainly not the only oak species used by the Mississippians, the Mississippian Black Oak (Quercus velutina) was the only one domesticated, and in many ways the most important crop of the Middle Missisippian Period. The Mississippian Black Oak doesn't produce nearly as many calories per acre as the later ahacampa, but what it lacked in calories it made up for with its sheer versatility. Its abundant mast certainly proved an important food source for the Middle Mississippians, who relished its acorn derived flour, and was a significant factor in the population expansion seen in the period. In combination with choupichoul and widlogouil it provided a polyculture to mitigate fall harvests failures. It also provided a crucial food source for pig rearing, and to a lesser extent wapiti, which would quickly fatten on its mast.

What truly set it apart though were its secondary uses, with nearly every part of the plant used for some perpuse. Its bark and roots were ground into tanbark powder for use in extracting tannin, and ultimately for production of leather. Its leaves fed silkworks, who in turn produced silk for fabric from their cocoons, pupae for use as food and pig feed, and silkworm litter for use as fertilizer in the fields. Its wood provided the obvious timber for construction and fire, but less obviously provided wood ash for use during tanning along with additional uses in later period. Collectively, the Black Oak represented not only a source of food, but also warmth, clothing, and shelter.

Sunroot (Helianthus tuberosus)
Domesticated ~7,000 BP (5,000 BC)

Sunroot is a close relative of common sunflower which produces a large carbohydrate rich taproot. As it stores its carbohydrates as inulin rather than starch, it requires boiling or exposure to frost in order to be rendered digestible to humans, though pigs and ruminants do not have this problem. As a result, it was primarily used as a famine food and animal feed by Middle Mississippians. Its taproot overwinters in the soil and would be dug up as need be during winter food shortages; the remainder would be used as pig feed in the spring.

Ahacampa (Ipomoea pandurata)
Domesticated ~5,000 BP (3,000 BC)

The ahacampa (Ipomoea pandurata) is a relative of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and like its cousin it possesses a large, starchy tuber. It has a much more northern distribution than its tropical relative, being native to the temperate Mississippi Basin and eastern seaboard as far north as the Great Lakes. Much like its cousin, the wild form has high concentrations of resin glycosides which were selected out of the domesticated form. The selection process was a many centuries long process, but one which was mitigated by the fact that its resin glycosides are broken down by boiling, rendering it edible. This made it a late addition to Middle Mississippian agriculture, as it required adapting experience with existing crops to it - namely acorns and sunroot.

Despite its late arrival, the ahacampa was perhaps the most transformative crop for the entire Mississippian culture. Its full impact would not be felt until the Late Mississippian Period, where it was one of the primary drivers of population growth in the Mississippian Culture sphere and its neighbors as it provided for an enormous increase in calories per acre compared with the previously dominant choupichoul-widlogouil complex.

Grape (Vitis riparia)
Domesticated ~6,000 BP (4,000 BC)

Mississippian Grapes (Vitis riparia) are the most widespread grape species in North America and like their old world relative, Mediterranean Grapes (Vitis vinifera), were predominately used for winemaking. As with many of the Mississippian crops, they are more cold tolerant than their old world cousins and have a more northerly distribution.
 
Updating a tad earlier than planned, as I'm a bit ahead on writing. The next post will start the spread of agriculture to the Southwest, with Agriculture on the Southern Great Plains. I expect to have that ready by the weekend at the latest, probably earlier. After that, I'm going to try to stick to weekly updates on Tuesdays (unless I get significantly ahead again, in which case it might be twice a week). The current schedule looks like:

Agriculture in the Southwest (where we are now, and might be for a while, depending on the number of posts needed)
Herding on the Colombian Plateau
Introduction of Animals to Mesoamerica
Pottery
Copperworking in the Great Lakes and its Spread
Secondary Products (where we'll talk about wine more, animal traction/the ard, milk, and possibly some other things)
There's some possible Behind the Scenes posts along the way too.
Once that's all said and done, I'll do a close out post for the Middle Mississippian, and the start of the Late Mississippian period, which is defined chiefly by the start of the North American Bronze age.
I also still need to do a map post, and might do a timeline post to chronologically list out developments and other significant events.

Many of those posts might end up split into multiple, just as agroforestry did, but we'll see. Again, a long while left here in this period before we transition over to the next.
 
Despite its late arrival, the ahacampa was perhaps the most transformative crop for the entire Mississippian culture. Its full impact would not be felt until the Late Mississippian Period, where it was one of the primary drivers of population growth in the Mississippian Culture sphere and its neighbors as it provided for an enormous increase in calories per acre compared with the previously dominant choupichoul-widlogouil complex.
I do wonder if we could get hybrids of ahacampa and sweet potato when they arrive in the Americas. It sounds like a plant that could do so, and it would change civilisation as they could support more ppl. Sweet potato may be grown in much more temperate regions ittl which would be very interesting.

Also I'm sorry for not responding earlier but I'm really hyped for duck and goose domestication and zizania domestication. Ponds and paddies would greatly increase the food people can utilise.
 
Last edited:
Top