Southeastern Ceremonial Complex Iconography Project: Research by current Museum staff members led to the first direct evidence for Mesoamerican artifacts in Mississippian contexts—an obsidian scraper from the Sierra de Pachuca source near Mexico City found in the Craig Mound, Oklahoma, sourced using XRF methods. Subsequent research by scholars elsewhere has shown both the presence of other materials from Mexico at a few sites, and the presence of large numbers of shells of species from the Gulf of California associated with burials at Spiro.
Current research by Museum Director Alex Barker focuses on the iconography of engraved shell objects from Mississippian contexts, with an emphasis on formal analysis of designs in shell gorgets from the American midcontinent. These gorgets carry symbols and iconography associated with the so-called Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, a horizon style linking Mississippian centers from Texas to the Carolinas, and from Florida to Wisconsin, during the late prehistoric period (ca. 1050-1450 CE). In addition to work on the archaeological context and significance of these objects, current research focuses on the use of imaging technologies including Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to capture details of engraved shell gorgets obscured by surface erosion, and identify clusters of production based on manufacturing technique and stylistic detail.