Ceramic effigies of marine shell cups have long been known from Mississippian sites in Illinois and elsewhere in the Southeast, and have been included in studies of other ceramic effigies, such as animal figures and head pots (Holmes 1886). This paper focuses on 31 knoivn Illinois specimens. I will show that, in Illinois, the geographic range of these effigies is primarily restricted to the American Bottom around Cahokia, and their occurrence is largely limited to Late Mississippian Moorehead and Sand Prairie phases (A.D. 1200 to 1400). I also explore possible meanings of shell cups and, by extension, ceramic effigies of shell cups. Ethnohistoric as well as archaeological evidence show that lightning whelk cups and, by analogy, shell cup effigies functioned in contexts of uncertainty and conflict, consistent with their context in Illinois.
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