Hawk Moth and Moundville

hawk moth

Hawk Moth by Lindsay Wilson, January 2016

hawk moth disc

Hawk moth drawing on a ceremonial disc from Moundville (Alabama), 1300s

This is my attempt at drawing the “hawk moth” (or sphinx moth, hornworm) depicted on a disc from the mounds at Moundville, AL.  I really like the simplistic, and yet, imaginative stretch that created this drawing.

These mounds, said to have been built around the 1300s, were of the Mississippian culture. There have been quite a few artifacts and relics found there. One of them was a disc with the hawk moth on it (see below).  I believe I read that this particular site was only “used” for about 50 years.

The Mississippian culture stretched throughout the areas east of the Mississippi River.  They were known for maize farming, sedentary living, highly ritualistic behavior, a priestly caste, and social inequity.  These things tend to co-evolve together in highly agricultural societies.  These Mississippian peoples were quite different from hunter-gatherer tribes in the area.  Even so, I have a feeling that many of the symbols and aspects of their cosmology was derived from earlier hunter-gatherer groups.

From my brief readings on this, the hawk moth was symbolic of transformation. They also laid their eggs on the sacred tobacco plant. I also found out that hawk or sphinx moths have the longest proboscis or tongue of all moths. They are known for being able to drink the nectar out of the fragrant, deep flowering wells of Datura (or Jimpson Weed)…among other heady and fragrant flowers.  There are about 1,450 species of hawk moths in the world (Sphingidae family of moths).  I’m not sure what hawk moths are endemic to that region of the South.

Carolina Sphinx Moth

Carolina Sphinx Moth (Manduca sexta) and evening primrose (it looks like) ~ http://galleries.northoftheridge.com/galleries/5_Insects/2_Moths/


2 thoughts on “Hawk Moth and Moundville

  1. I have never heard of the hawk moth until now. It is a really interesting creature. Can you elaborate on the fact -the hawk moth was symbolic of transformation. I am just curious to know.

    • Well, I’m really not sure, myself… I would imagine that it has something to do with the fact that they lay their eggs on the sacred tobacco plant (so it had an intimate relationship with that plant)…and that this tobacco plant was probably used ceremonially for medicine work. On another note, I do know that there is a hummingbird hawk moth…that many people mistake for a hummingbird because of its size and the fact that it sometimes hovers by a flower before drawing nectar from it. These are big moths!

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