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From Quarry to Cornfield

The Political Economy of Mississippian Hoe Production

Written by Charles Richard Cobb

Publication Year: 2000

From Quarry to Cornfield provides an innovative model for examining the technology of hoe production and its contribution to the agriculture of Mississippian communities.

Lithic specialist Charles Cobb examines the political economy in Mississippian communities through a case study of raw material procurement and hoe production and usage at the Mill Creek site on Dillow Ridge in southwest Illinois. Cobb outlines the day-to-day activities in a Mississippian chiefdom village that flourished from about A.D. 1250 to 1500. In so doing, he provides a fascinating window into the specialized tasks of a variety of "day laborers" whose contribution to the community rested on their production of stone hoes necessary in the task of feeding the village. Overlooked in most previous studies, the skills and creativity of the makers of the hoes used in village farming provide a basis for broader analysis of the technology of hoe use in Mississippian times.

Although Cobb's work focuses on Mill Creek, his findings at this site are representative of the agricultural practices of Mississippian communities throughout the eastern United States. The theoretical underpinnings of Cobb's study make a clear case for a reexamination of the accepted definition of chiefdom, the mobilization of surplus labor, and issues of power, history, and agency in Mississippian times. In a well-crafted piece of writing, Cobb distinguishes himself as one of the leaders in the study of lithic technology. From Quarry to Cornfield will find a well-deserved place in the ongoing discussions of power and production in the Mississippian political economy.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. vii

Figures and Tables

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

The research represented in this book was carried out in two pulses. It began as my dissertation study, which was completed in 1988. After a hiatus of several years, I picked the thread up again in 1991 after I arrived at Binghamton University. I thus have had the good fortune to revisit an earlier body of research with additional

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1. A Day in the Life

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pp. 1-18

By the beginning of the second millennium A.D. human communities had been extracting metals and minerals from the earth’s crust for thousands of years. Steady advances in quarrying and mining technologies had provided growing access to a broad range of raw materials widely valued as markers of wealth or as utilitarian resources. In turn, these substances—such as gold, copper, tin, and salt—were increasingly important in trade networks. In the Old World, demand for the earth’s treasures was an important dimension of the global economy...

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2. Specialization, Exchange, and Power in Small-Scale Socieities and Chiefdoms

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pp. 19-46

Archaeological studies of chiefdoms have now matured to the point that there is much less concern with whether one is dealing witha chiefdom and more interest in general issues such as: How did this polity come to be? How was it organized? or How does its political economy compare with those of other chiefdoms? Certainly, the issue of assessing characteristics of chiefdoms continues to be a matter of...

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3. Exchanging Chert, Consuming Chert

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pp. 47-76

In the absence of earthworks, Mississippian sites are most readily identified by ceramics. Shell-tempered sherds in particular serve as an important diagnostic artifact for survey crews walking plowed fields searching for sites. Over a substantial portion of the lower Midwest and Midsouth, there is another useful way to identify Mississippian sites from surface assemblages, and that is the sheen of the mirror-like polish on Mill Creek chert hoe...

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4. Rethinking the Organization of Lithic Technology

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pp. 77-97

The cumulative weight of over a century of archaeological research on the exchange and consumption of Mill Creek chert hoes has amply demonstrated the capability of prehistoric communities to sustain chert quarrying and tool manufacture for hundreds of years. Yet inferences about production are mainly either indirect, based on the distribution of hoes, or broad, qualitative statements from short-term...

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5. Life in the Mississippian Uplands

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pp. 98-119

The primary Mill Creek chert sources are concentrated in a small area in the southwestern corner of Illinois (Figure 5.1). This area—hereafter referred to as the “Mill Creek locale”—is of particular interest in terms of settlement because it represents what is usually considered a Mississippian hinterland, characterized by rolling hills, deeply dissected ridges, and narrow drainages. In contrast, the largest and best known...

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6. The Regional Structure of Hoe Production

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pp. 120-157

Archaeologists have a love/hate relationship with lithic source areas. Because stone was such an important raw material for prehistoric toolmaking, we know that lithic quarries, mines, and workshops constitute an excellent vantage point from which to approach the organization of lithic technology. Yet quarries and workshops present our worst nightmares in terms of sampling, dating, and taphonomic...

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7. Hoe Production and the Domestic Economy

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pp. 158-190

Undisturbed sites, while not unheard of, are certainly a rarity in eastern North America. Mechanized cultivation, the development of towns and cities, the growth of highways, and other products of our modern life have wreaked havoc on the archaeological record. Nevertheless, a small number of undisturbed sites do occur throughout the Eastern Woodlands. Undisturbed is a relative term, because the natural...

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8. Production and Power: Defining Scales

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pp. 191-206

Using traditional nomenclature, the available evidence from the Mill Creek locale suggests the presence of part-time specialists working within a production system that was dispersed yet encompassed a few mound sites. The wide spatial distribution of communities, workshops, and source areas—combined with the lack of any clearly defined social hierarchy—further indicates that centralization...

References Cited

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pp. 207-250


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pp. 251-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817310509

Page Count: 275
Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 652427367
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From Quarry to Cornfield

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Subject Headings

  • Illinois -- Antiquities.
  • Mississippi River Valley -- Antiquities.
  • Mill Creek Site (Ill.).
  • Hoes, Prehistoric -- Mississippi River Valley.
  • Indians of North America -- Illinois -- Antiquities.
  • Mississippian culture.
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