The Cox Mound Gorget

A Cox style Mississippian culture shell gorget.

The Cox Mound, or Woodpecker, gorget style is a particularly beautiful and enduring symbol of Tennessee’s prehistoric inhabitants. A gorget was a pendant, or personal adornment, worn around the neck as a badge of rank or insignia of status and was thought to be symbolic of both earthly and supernatural powers. A variety of gorget styles, or designs, are known. As a class of artistic expression, this type of artifact falls within the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, formerly known as the Southern Cult.

Just over thirty Cox Mound-style gorgets have been found since the late nineteenth century, primarily from prehistoric Mississippian stone box graves and villages along the lower Tennessee, Cumberland, Duck, Harpeth, and Buffalo Rivers of Middle Tennessee, and the middle Tennessee River valley of northern Alabama. As a result of the frequent mortuary association of Cox Mound gorgets with certain pottery types, namely Matthews Incised, as well as other artifacts, it has been postulated that Cox Mound gorgets date to the period A.D. 1250-1450. One rich grave from the famous burial mound at the Castalian Springs site in Sumner County produced two Cox Mound gorgets.

Typically, Cox Mound gorgets were manufactured on exotic marine shell and were white in color. Other materials, such as black slate in Putnam County and human skull fragments in Hardin County, were used rarely. Engraving the intricate design on the hard shell or slate without metal tools took many hours of skilled labor and is thought to have been a winter activity.

A Cox Mound gorget has three important iconographic elements. In the center is a cross inside a rayed circle or sun motif. The cross is symbolic of the sacred, or council, fire. The sun represents the sky deity and/or mythical ancestors. Surrounding the cross and sun is a scroll-like design element known as the looped square. This feature may represent wind, or possibly the litter on which subordinates carried a chief.

Typically the looped square is composed of four lines, but in some cases only three lines are used. Four crested bird heads, which most scholars interpret as woodpeckers, are found on the outer edge. The woodpecker heads always are oriented in a counterclockwise direction, suggestive of the prehistoric Native American swastika.

The woodpecker, like the falcon, was probably a symbol of war to the prehistoric Mississippian Indians. The war symbolism of the bird probably derived from the red head of the bird, which resembled a bloodied scalping victim. The Cherokees associated the red-headed woodpecker with danger and war, and the woodpecker was always invoked for aid by the ball game players. The bird’s pecking is similar to an Indian warrior striking the war post at the Victory dance. For the Cherokees, the color red is associated with male attractiveness and fertility, as well as bravery and war. Groups of woodpeckers are thought to be a sign of war to the Creeks and Seminoles. While war is typically associated with males in Native American society, it is important to note that Cox Mound gorgets have been found in both male and female burials.

Other interpretations include the identification of the four woodpeckers as the four thunders at the world quarters, and a folklorist has speculated recently that the Cox Mound gorget style is a prehistoric expression of the Yuchi myth of the Winds. Cox Mound gorgets are displayed by the Tennessee State Museum and Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area.

Source: Tennessee Encyclopedia

The Looped Square

f1928276a943a9289ef6a879b60e3332n-tspThe looped square (⌘) is a symbol consisting of a square with outward pointing loops at its corners. Also called a Shield Knot, it is a universal symbol of protection, seen in all cultures around the world.

Although it takes different forms, the distinctive features that make it a powerful protecting charm are the square shape and the interlacing pattern.

One of the earliest known forms is from Mesopotamia and simply consists of a square with a loop at each corner. The same symbol appears in the Kabbalah as the “Shema,” used to invoke the four Archangels

It can also represent:

  • Love
  • Flow
  • Infinity
  • Flowing water

This ancient symbol belongs to a class of symbols which are called valknute in Norway. It goes by many names and has many different variations. The looped knot is used by several cultures, and remains in common use today.

In Finland, the symbol was painted or carved on houses and barns, and domestic utensils such as tableware, to protect them and their owners from evil spirits and bad luck. The symbol appears on a number of old objects in Northern Europe. It features prominently on a picture stone from Hablingbo, Gotland, Sweden, that was created between 400 and 600 AD.


In modern times, the symbol is commonly found in Ukraine, Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden as an indicator of locations of cultural interest, beginning in the Scandinavian countries in the late 1960s. It is used as the place of interest marker on information signs and maps, a practice which started in Nordic countries in the late 1960s.

In Sweden, you might call it the sankthanskors symbol. There has been modern speculation that it was chosen for its resemblance to an aerial view of Borgholm Castle; however, the symbol is well-represented in Scandinavian artifacts that predate the current castle by centuries.

81786154d7fa0cd85c86c1a77504176cThis symbol was also featured on the cover of a printing of The Kalevala, and is sometimes referred to as the Kalevala Symbol. The Kalevala or The Kalewala is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.

It is regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala played an instrumental role in the development of the Finnish national identity, the intensification of Finland’s language strife and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917. Kalevala Day is celebrated in Finland on February 28.

The Cox Mound Gorget, is a similar symbol which played a major role in the lives of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama inhabitants as early as 1250 A.D. It has quite an interesting history, and has it’s own separate page here: The Cox Mound Gorget.

266px-Bowen-knot-in-ropeWhen the symbol is made with a rope, it is known as a Bowen knot. This is a traditional heraldic emblem also sometimes called a Shield Knot. The Bowen knot is a heraldic knot for the Bowen family crest.

Other names for this symbol include:

  • Saint John’s Arms
  • Saint Hannes Cross
  • Sankthanskor
  • Hannunvaakuna
  • Gorgon Loop
  • Johanneskor

Today, you might know it as the “Apple command key” symbol. From its obscure Scandinavian roots, the Saint John’s Arms, or Looped Square vaulted into international fame during the 80s. Originally Apple computer utilized the “open apple” and “closed apple” as its command keys.

In 1984, when the Macintosh personal computer was introduced, Steve Jobs decided that using the apple for shortcut commands was denigrating the brand. According to Apple insider Andy Hertzfeld, when Jobs saw how many apple commands were in an early version of MacDraw he peremptorily told the design team, “There are too many Apples on the screen! It’s ridiculous! We’re taking the Apple logo in vain! We’ve got to stop doing that!”


The bitmap artist, Susan Kare, flipped through her dictionary of international symbols until she found one that easily translated into 16 bit-resolution. It was the looped square symbol—which the symbol dictionary said indicated camping grounds in Sweden.



Collected from various sources.

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