Cross-in-Circle Gorget

Image of cross-in-circle gorget
A marine shell ornament

Human beings have long used symbols to represent significant concepts. During the Mississippian Period (between 900 and 600 years ago) Native Americans in Illinois and elsewhere honed objects out of imported marine shell. This pendant-like object, or gorget, was worn around the neck, probably suspended with a cord threaded through the holes on the outer edge. Another object may have been suspended from the opposite hole(s).

The cross-in-circle symbol on gorgets is a hallmark of Mississippian culture. Some archaeologists think the symbol represents the four directions (equal arm cross) and the earth (circle). Others have interpreted it as a sun symbol: the equal arm cross represents logs of a sacred fire and the circle denotes the sun. This object is a simple expression of the symbol. More elaborate examples include the marine shell spider gorget and others that include figures of human beings and other animals and geometric designs. The cross-in-circle is also found engraved in pottery and embossed in copper foil.