Mississippi Archaeology Q & A

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Press of Mississippi. Retrieved 28 June Brose Yesterday's river: the archaeology of 10, years along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Berle Clay Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology. Smith Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. Skip to main content.

A study of ancient mound builders who lived hundreds of years ago on the Mississippi River Delta near present-day New Orleans offers new insights into how Native peoples selected the landforms that The prehistoric people of Central and South America are known worldwide for their fantastic architectural and cultural achievements. However, North American natives are not known as great builders Researchers had speculated that victims of human sacrifice found at the Native American site Cahokia in Illinois were brought in from outside the area, perhaps as tribute.

But a new analysis of the The mysterious demise of the ancient city of Cahokia has long remained unexplained, but now research suggests catastrophic megafloods may have devastated crops and food stores, and forced residents From their prehistoric migration to present-day Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee, to the purchase of their new homeland in south-central Oklahoma in the mid s, Chickasaw culture and As a Native American culture, the Chickasaw people broadly trace their ancestry back to the migratory peoples of the Paleo-Indian period , which spanned from roughly 10, BC - BC.

Legend has Many archaeologists and scholars In several respects, most of the chapters in this volume represent a break with that tradition. For example, in Chapter 2, Fox demonstrates that the phases used in the northern part of the region are based on unsystematic comparisons of ceramic assemblages. One result of his analysis see also Fox ; O'Brien and Fox a, b is clear demonstration that phenomena once treated as being the same are more similar to phenomena treated as being different. This finding should be of considerable interest to archaeologists who have employed the phases.

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Kreisa Chapter 3 finds much the same thing in his analysis of ceramic assemblages from western Kentucky. Although there are distinct differences between pre-A. Although the potential of spatial variation in the frequencies of historical types was recognized by Phillips, Ford, and Griffin , especially by Fordsee his Measurements of Some Prehistoric Design Developments in the Southeastern States Ford ; see also Deetz and Dethlefsen the use of essentialist phases encouraged workers to overlook these issues. Kreisa's analysis demonstrates that there is considerably more variation in western-Kentucky assemblages than has been admitted previously, a point that calls into immediate question the validity of traditional interpretations of pottery types as time markers.

The contributions by Dye Chapter 4 and Mainfort and Moore Chapter 5 are primarily efforts to establish useful chronological markers for the Late Mississippian period, in Dye's case by examining spatial differences in Walls Engraved vessels and in Mainfort and Moore's case by radiometrically dating a small ceramic assemblage from western Tennessee.

Phillips, Ford, and Griffin discussed in considerable depth the dynamic nature of the central Mississippi Valley floodplain and even used Fisk's reconstructed channel positions to date sites. Despite this start, few efforts have been made to understand how prehistoric groups responded to the constantly changing physical environment and to document the effects of changes to the floodplain on the archaeological record.


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Lafferty's intensive survey of a portion of the Cairo Lowland, summarized in Chapter 6, is an effort in this direction. Despite the long history of archaeological research in the Cairo Lowland, small sites have been overlookeda result primarily of the attraction the large palisaded mound centers have long held for prehistorians.

Lafferty's work is the first systematic analysis of site locations relative both to time and physiographic features. In Chapter 7, Telster examines the archaeological record around Sandy Woods, a palisaded mound center that received considerable attention during the nineteenth century e. This allows her to reevaluate Stephen Williams's , , argument that the northern half of the central Mississippi Valley was depopulated beginning sometime in the second half of the fourteenth century.

The argument, as she correctly notes, has been framed in terms of the persistence or abandonment of sites with mounds and large population aggregates. Importantly, those involved in the debate have failed to consider that populations can be distributed in a variety of ways across the landscape. Consequently, Teltser suggests that the late-prehistoric record be approached in terms of demographic reorganization.

In that context, abandonment is only one of several possibilities.

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Despite the importance and influence of the Powers Phase Project in the archaeology of the central Mississippi Valley, the "paramount" settlement, Powers Fort Figure , has not been reported since the nineteenth century Thomas , and then only briefly. In Chapter 8, Perttula examines the internal configuration of Powers Fort, which at a little more than 4 hectares is the smallest of the fortified mound centers in southeastern Missouri. Perttula's systematic examination of features contained within the palisade and analysis of artifacts from limited excavation and surface collections comprise the first modern statement on the site.

His contribution is all the more important in light of the considerable effort that has been expended at contemporary nonmound sites in the Little Black River drainage of the Western Lowlands e. Chapter 9 contains Dunnell's analysis of the surface structure of Langdon Figure , a fortified mound center on the edge of the Malden Plain in Dunklin County, Missouri. Although a major center by all criteria, it escaped the attention of early prehistorians and even in more recent times has received only passing mention.

Perhaps because he did not realize that it was palisaded, J. Williams did not even mention the site in his survey of fortified centers in southeastern Missouri. Dunnell points out the error in the common assumption that all of the fortified mound centers are more or less the same in terms of form. Langdon, as opposed to the large centers in the Cairo Lowland, for example, contains a main mound that is tall relative to its basal widtha feature that makes it similar to settlements located farther south in the St.

Francis basin.

The artifact assemblage, however, has more in common with Cairo Lowland assemblages than it does with those from the St. Francis sites. An important aspect of Dunnell's chapter is the amount of information that can be learned about these complex centers through the use of nondestructive field methods such as aerial photography, coring, and controlled surface collection.

In Chapter 10, Benn reports the results of analysis of material from Moon Figure , a small, palisaded Mississippian-period settlement in Poinsett County, Arkansas. His contribution is significant from several standpoints. Moon, comparable to those communities in size, displays an organization that is quite distinct; thus, Benn's work represents a clear caveat regarding the use of superficial similarity to generalize about "Mississippian" settlement. Chapters 11 and 12 focus on lithic materiala much neglected aspect of the archaeological record in the central Mississippi Valley.

In Chapter 11, McCutcheon and Dunnell explore the size and composition of gravels from locations on Crowley's Ridge, the nearest source of lithic raw material for groups residing in much of the Eastern Lowlands. Finished products of Crowley's Ridge gravels, as well as the by-products of stone-tool manufacture, are ubiquitous on sites in the valley, but to date there has been little attention paid to the kinds of raw materials that were being selected.

This contrasts with increasing attention paid to imported cherts e. In Chapter 12, Morrow examines lithic material from Twenhafel Figure 16 , located in extreme southwestern Illinois on the alluvial plain near the junction of the Big Muddy River and the Mississippi.

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Twenhafel is a large, complex site that, perhaps because of its twenty-five mounds, has received considerable attention by prehistorians from at least the s e. Artifacts from the site document that it was used from at least the Early Woodland period through at least the Middle Mississippian period, though it is the heavy Middle Woodlandperiod occupation that historically has received the most attention. Classic Middle Woodland "Hopewell" materials recovered from Twenhafel include figurines, copper artifacts, sheet mica, galena cubes, marine-shell artifacts, quartz and obsidian chips, and large numbers of prismatic blades manufactured from nonlocal cherts.

Morrow addresses the function of the prismatic blades in the socioeconomic system in place at Twenhafel. Traditional takes on prehistoric subsistence in the central Mississippi Valley have focused on plant and animal remains and have assumed simple correlations with phases; that is, a phase has a corresponding form of subsistence.

Thus, Mississippian phases represent groups of farmers witness Chapman's [] use of the term Village Farmer tradition, Early Mississippi period , and data from one or a few localities are generalized to larger cultural-historical units. In Chapter 13, Greenlee reviews the data available on stable-carbon isotopes for the central valley e. Again, a picture of variability, not uniformity, emerges. With this beginning, it is possible to suggest hypotheses about subsistence changes that can be tested and the results used to structure future research.

In summary, the chapters included here represent fresh looks at old problems in central Mississippi Valley archaeology.

Weekend Escape: Natchez, Mississippi

At a second level, the studies plainly indicate that some of the work conducted previously actually masked that variation through the methods used and the assumptions made about how and why the variation came to be expressed the way it was in the archaeological record. This set of studies is offered as an initial step toward clarifying the nature of some of that variation.


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  6. Fox Modern post archaeological research in southeastern Missouri Figure 21 , and indeed in the central Mississippi River valley, has focused primarily on classificatory-historical problems e. Still, the majority of archaeologists working in the area are culture historians, and they continue to base their conclusions on intuitive and untested interpretations of archaeological phenomena, many of which were formulated three or more decades ago. Two classificatory units, phases and pottery types, are integral to the interpretive framework that has grown up around the archaeology of the Mississippian period in southeastern Missouri.

    Understanding not only the history behind these units but also their limitations and how they have been applied is integral to assessing the accuracy of various cultural-historical interpretations. This chapter is a critical examination of phase constructions that have been proposed for southeastern Missouri.

    archaeology

    Although I focus specifically on that area, I suspect the findings have broad applicability to the central Mississippi Valley. My examination of Mississippian-period phases in southeastern Missouri was stimulated by two realities. First, despite forty years of archaeological research in the region, the initial classifications of cultural phenomena made by Stephen Williams in the early s Williams have remained essentially unchanged.

    at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

    Second, researchers working in the area e. Williams , , have difficulty assigning many archaeological components to the existing phases. Stephen Williams recently asserted that his original definitions of the four phases in southeastern MissouriCairo Lowland, Nodena, Malden Plain, and Pemiscot Bayouwere based on more data than were generated from his excavations at Crosno 23MI1 , located in Mississippi County, and from his surface collections of other sites in southeastern Missouri.

    Map of southeastern Missouri showing physiographic features and locations of archaeological sites mentioned in the text. Regardless of the impact of these activities, archaeological interpretation in the region is still based on the phases Williams presented in his dissertation. Over the succeeding decades, archaeologists e.

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    Williams , , embraced the four-phase system and added a few pieces here and there, but the system has not been evaluated through a detailed comparative analysis, a consistent application of chronometric controls, or the use of statistical methods. Here I use statistical procedures rather than intuitive groupings to reexamine the typefrequency information, derived from surface collections and excavations, which Williams and subsequent researchers e. Williams used to define Mississippian-period phases and to assign assemblages to those phases. But what is a phase? Is it a group of similar assemblages"similar" being based on some qualitative feel that assemblages are somehow similaror is it a class of assemblages that share a set of necessary and sufficient traits that serve to distinguish any particular phase from all other phases e.

    Williams's formulations for southeastern Missouri might be interpreted either way. Since he never explained this element of his conceptual scheme, it is necessary to evaluate his phases as both groups and classes. Williams's Phases: Groups or Classes?

    In his dissertation, Williams provided the first modern categorization of Mississippian-period phases in southeastern Missouri. For all intents and purposes, subsequent phase designations that have been proposed for the area e. The Cairo Lowland phase, originally based on Williams's excavations at Crosno and on his review of museum collections, can be considered the archetypical phase in the region, since all other phases are defined primarily on the absence of Cairo Lowland ceramic markers and secondarily on the presence of other pottery types in site assemblages.

    Williams, closely following Phillips and Willey , defined a phase as follows: A space-time-culture unit possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it from all other units similarly conceived whether of the same or other cultural traditions geographically limited to a locality or region and chronologically limited to a relatively brief span of time. Often initially defined on the strength of one component with the expectation that others will be found. In most cases, phase probably equals "society.

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    New Madrid Matthews Incised, var. Matthews Matthews Incised, var. Beckwith Matthews Incised, var. O'Byam Kimmswick Fabric-Impressed, var. Kimmswick Wickliffe Thick, var. Williams Smith If, on the other hand, we interpret Williams's phases as groups, then the members of a phase must be more similar to one another, measured in terms of in-use historical types, than any one is to a member of another phase.

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