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The Archaeology of Town Creek

Written by Edmond A. Boudreaux

Publication Year: 2007

The sequence of change for public architecture during the Mississippian period may reflect a centralization of political power through time. In the research presented here, some of the community-level assumptions attributed to the appearance of Mississippian mounds are tested against the archaeological record of the Town Creek site—the remains of a town located on the northeastern edge of the Mississippian culture area. In particular, the archaeological record of Town Creek is used to test the idea that the appearance of Mississippian platform mounds was accompanied by the centralization of political authority in the hands of a powerful chief.
A compelling argument has been made that mounds were the seats and symbols of political power within Mississippian societies. While platform mounds have been a part of Southeastern Native American communities since at least 100 B.C., around A.D. 400 leaders in some communities began to place their houses on top of earthen mounds—an act that has been interpreted as an attempt to legitimize personal authority by a community leader through the appropriation of a powerful, traditional, community-oriented symbol. Platform mounds at a number of sites were preceded by a distinctive type of building called an earthlodge—a structure with earth-embanked walls and an entrance indicated by short, parallel wall trenches. Earthlodges in the Southeast have been interpreted as places where a council of community leaders came together to make decisions based on consensus. In contrast to the more inclusive function proposed for premound earthlodges, it has been argued that access to the buildings on top of Mississippian platform mounds was limited to a much smaller subset of the community. If this was the case and if ground-level earthlodges were more accessible than mound-summit structures, then access to leaders and leadership may have decreased through time.
Excavations at the Town Creek archaeological site have shown that the public architecture there follows the earthlodge-to-platform mound sequence that is well known across the South Appalachian subarea of the Mississippian world. The clear changes in public architecture coupled with the extensive exposure of the site's domestic sphere make Town Creek an excellent case study for examining the relationship among changes in public architecture and leadership within a Mississippian society.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Mississippian Public Architecture, Leadership, and the Town Creek Community

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pp. 1-14

Numerous Mississippian societies developed across the southeastern United States beginning around a.d. 1000 (Smith 1986; Steponaitis 1986). The Mississippian rubric, which covers over 800 years and virtually all of southeastern North America, encompasses a great deal of variation regarding material culture, physiography, settlement patterns, and political organization...

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2. Architectural Analysis

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pp. 15-43

The goal of this book is to explore the relationship between mound construction and political change at Town Creek. The critical first step toward reaching this goal is attributing contexts such as buildings, features, burials, mound- construction stages, and nonbuilding architecture to different time periods in Town Creek’s history. Defining the spaces that served as the loci of...

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3. Occupational History of Town Creek

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pp. 44-65

This chapter presents a brief history of the late Prehistoric through early Historic period community that existed at Town Creek. Although little is known at this time about Town Creek’s Late Woodland and Protohistoric occupations, information on both is included in order to place the Mississippian community within a broader context. The discussion of each phase or period...

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4. Moortuary Analysis

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pp. 66-94

Town Creek’s rich mortuary record (Davis et al. 1996; Driscoll 2001) is a critical dataset for an exploration of the relationship between changes in Mississippian public architecture and changes in the nature of leadership. The interpretations presented in this chapter are based on the assumption that individuals who occupied leadership roles within the Mississippian community...

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5. Vessel Analysis

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pp. 95-104

The earthlodge- to- platform- mound model proposes that changes in Mississippian public architecture reflect a centralization of political power that accompanied the appearance of platform mounds (Anderson 1994:119–120, 1999:220; DePratter 1983:207–208; Rudolph 1984:40). While the mortuary data from Town Creek show that there were changes in the nature of...

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6. Conclusions

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pp. 105-115

This book has attempted to incorporate a wide range of data from as many contexts as possible into an exploration of the relationship between changes in public architecture and changes in social and political roles within the Mississippian community at Town Creek. Along the way, an attempt has been made to sketch out a history of the native community that existed there between ...


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pp. 117-132


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pp. 133-134

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381271
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354558

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 648357024
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Archaeology of Town Creek

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Subject Headings

  • Mississippian culture -- North Carolina.
  • Indians of North America -- North Carolina -- Antiquities.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- North Carolina.
  • Town Creek Site (N.C.).
  • North Carolina -- Antiquities.
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