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The Archaeology of Everyday Life at Early Moundville

Written by Gregory D. Wilson

Publication Year: 2008

Complex Mississippian polities were neither developed nor sustained in a vacuum. A broad range of small-scale social groups played a variety of roles in the emergence of regionally organized political hierarchies that governed large-scale ceremonial centers. Recent research has revealed the extent to which interactions among corporately organized clans led to the development, success, and collapse of Moundville. These insights into Moundville’s social complexity are based primarily on the study of monumental architecture and mortuary ceremonialism. Less is known about how everyday domestic practices produced and were produced by broader networks of power and inequality in the region. 
Wilson’s research addresses this gap in our understanding by analyzing and interpreting large-scale architectural and ceramic data sets from domestic contexts. This study has revealed that the early Mississippian Moundville community consisted of numerous spatially discrete multi-household groups, similar to ethnohistorically described kin groups from the southeastern United States. Hosting feasts, dances, and other ceremonial events were important strategies by which elite groups created social debts and legitimized their positions of authority. Non-elite groups, on the other hand, maintained considerable economic and ritual autonomy through diversified production activities, risk sharing, and household ceremonialism. Organizational changes in Moundville’s residential occupation highlight the different ways kin groups defined and redefined their corporate status and identities over the long term.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi


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p. xiii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-9

How complex were Mississippian polities and in what ways were they complex? What role did small-scale social groups play in the emergence of regionally organized political hierarchies? These issues are the focus of this archaeological investigation of the Moundville site in the Black Warrior Valley of west-central Alabama. Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, the Moundville site was the...

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2. Mississippian Communities and Households

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pp. 10-29

Mississippian peoples throughout the southeastern United States drew from a common suite of architectural elements to build and organize their communities. Mounds, plazas, courtyards, palisades, and cemeteries were basic components of a Mississippian architectural grammar that defined major settlements throughout the greater Southeast and Midwest (Lewis and Stout 1998). There was also considerable...

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3. Moundville Households in Space and Time

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pp. 30-47

There is a rich, untapped dataset on Mississippian households from the Moundville site. During the late 1930s and early 1940s the Alabama Museum of Natural History conducted excavations throughout the site, uncovering hundreds of Mississippian buildings along with thousands of artifacts. The vast majority of these archaeological materials have not been systematically analyzed. The Moundville...

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4. Architecture and Community Organization

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pp. 48-92

This chapter presents an analysis of the architectural and mortuary features of the Moundville Roadway and Riverbank excavations. I begin by providing background on the architectural techniques used to construct Mississippian structures and on the purposes that these buildings served. Next, I describe the way the Moundville Roadway was originally mapped and the procedures used to create a geographic...

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5. Ceramics at Early Moundville

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pp. 93-127

The analysis of archaeological ceramics in the southeastern United States has traditionally been directed toward building regional chronologies and defining areas of cultural interaction. In the past 20 years, however, there has been an expanding body of research aimed at linking archaeological ceramic assemblages to foodways (Blitz 1993a; Hally 1983a, 1984, 1986; Pauketat 1987, 1989; Steponaitis...

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6. Discussion and Conclusions

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pp. 128-137

Moundville was among the largest Mississippian polities, and thus it was clearly more complex than most other settlements in the late prehistoric Southeast. However, this observation raises the question, how complex was Moundville and in what ways was it complex? These are important issues, as Moundville has become an oft-cited example of how Mississippian polities were organized and how they...

Appendix 1. Architectural Data

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pp. 139-145

Appendix 2. Counts and Frequencies of All Sherds by Context

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pp. 148-149


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pp. 151-152

References Cited

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pp. 153-168


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pp. 169-171

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382346
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354442

Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 427565718
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Archaeology of Everyday Life at Early Moundville

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Moundville Archaeological Park (Moundville, Ala.).
  • Mississippian culture -- Alabama -- Black Warrior River Valley.
  • Social archaeology -- Alabama -- Black Warrior River Valley.
  • Black Warrior River Valley (Ala.) -- Antiquities.
  • Mississippian pottery -- Alabama -- Black Warrior River Valley.
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