Underwater Monster Bowl

Image of ceramic bowl
A world divided: upper, middle and lower worlds

For two thousand years, many Native Americans in the southeastern United States believed their World was divided into three parts. There was the Upper World, where the life-giving sun was found; the Middle World was where people lived on the surface of the Earth; and finally, the Lower World, which was the source of fertility. According to legend, the Underwater Monster depicted on this bowl inhabited this Lower World, where it was admired and feared. Thunder, rain, water, and other powers were also attributed to it.

In 1673, the explorer and Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette saw an abstract painting on a limestone bluff near present day Alton, Illinois. He was told the painting depicted the Underwater Monster who lived below the surface of the Mississippi River near the confluence with the Illinois River. Before Father Marquette saw the artwork and heard the story, the tale must have been passed down through at least 40 generations, since this bowl was made a full 800 years before Father Marquette’s discovery.

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