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Circular Villages of the Monongahela Tradition

Written by Bernard K. Means

Publication Year: 2007

Between A.D. 1000 and 1635, the inhabitants of southwestern Pennsylvania and portions of adjacent states—known to archaeologists as the Monongahela Culture or Tradition—began to reside regularly in ring-shaped village settlements. These circular settlements consisted of dwellings around a central plaza. A cross-cultural and cross-temporal review of archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic cases demonstrates that this settlement form appeared repeatedly and independently worldwide, including throughout portions of the Eastern Woodlands, among the Plains Indians, and in Central and South America.
Specific archaeological cases are drawn from Somerset County, Pennsylvania, that has the largest number of completely excavated Monongahela villages. Most of these villages, excavated in the 1930s as federal relief projects, were recently dated. Full analysis of the extensive excavations reveals not only the geometric architectural patterning of the villages, but enables an analysis of the social groupings, population estimates, and economic status of residents who inhabited the circular villages. Circular patterning can be revealed at less fully excavated archaeological sites. Focused test excavations can help confirm circular village plans without extensive and destructive excavations.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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A portion of the material presented in this work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (BCS-0226785) titled “Modeling Somerset Monongahela Village Organization Within a Chronological Framework Developed through AMS Dating of Curated Organic Remains.” My research also benefitted materially from a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis- ...

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1. Village Spatial Layouts and Social Organizations

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pp. 1-12

Across time and space, a significant shift in how social groups configured themselves has repeatedly taken place: families abandoned their millennial-long practice of living in small dispersed settlements to reside with other families in aggregated village settlements. Wills (1991:161) stressed the importance of this shift when he noted that “the organization of unranked social groups into...

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2. A Review of the Late Prehistoric Monongahela Tradition and the New Chronology for Allegheny Mountains Villages

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pp. 13-30

A basic tenet of this work is that—because they were generally ring shaped—Monongahela tradition village sites are best studied through application o fgeometric models derived from a cross-cultural and cross-temporal survey of other ring-shaped village communities. The reader does not necessarily need a detailed knowledge of the Monongahela tradition to follow the analysis and ...

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3. Villages, Communities, and Social Organizations

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pp. 31-39

Patterning in the distribution of archaeological remains at Monongahela tradition village sites is expected to reveal underlying social, behavioral, or ideological geometric models and reflect aspects of village social organizations influenced by these models. The Monongahela tradition concept is directly associated with the initial appearance, persistence, and character of village sites...

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4. Building Models of Village Spatial and Social Organizations

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pp. 40-68

A diverse range of social organizations is potentially reflected in the patterned distribution of archaeological remains at Monongahela tradition village sites. The initial part of this chapter presents general theoretical considerations supporting the premise that a village’s community organization can be modeled from its material remains. This work draws on approaches developed to examine built ...

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5. Models and Hypotheses Related to Community Organization

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pp. 69-85

The cross-cultural research presented in Chapter 4 certainly demonstrates that some societies draw on geometric models to localize discrete social groups within the layouts of their ring-shaped settlements. This research also indicates that the seemingly simple layout of the ring-shaped settlement can mask several distinct and diverse underlying geometric models. The first section of ...

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6. Data Sources, Variables, and Analytical Approaches

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pp. 86-105

This chapter begins with a discussion of data sources used to address the models and hypotheses presented in Chapter 5. A particular emphasis is placed in this first section on the nature and quality of data from village components recovered during depression-era federal relief excavations in the Allegheny Mountains region. Next, we consider major variable groups that form the core ...

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7. Modeling Community Patterning from Select Village Components in the Allegheny Mountains Region

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pp. 106-144

Each Allegheny Mountains region village component is assessed here in terms of the models delineated in Chapter 5. First, each village component is analyzed to determine whether one or more geometric models characterized all or some aspects of its community pattern. Then, the nature and types of social groups are explored, building on the analyses and interpretations of each component’s ...

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8. Comparative Analyses from Modeling Individual Village Components

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pp. 145-154

Insights made into the spatial and social organizations of Allegheny Mountains region village components show that village sites in this region were planned according to geometric models. However, no single, unique model was used as a common template by all communities. Most village communities in the region also were structured around multihousehold social groups of varying...

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9. Implications Drawn from Interpreting Community Organization through Village Spatial Layouts

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pp. 155-164

The Late Prehistoric people who once lived in the Allegheny Mountains region of southwestern Pennsylvania, and who are associated with the archaeologically defined Monongahela tradition, are known today largely from the ring-shaped village settlements they once inhabited. A large number of these village sites have had their layouts completely exposed, seemingly rendering them well ...

References Cited

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pp. 165-188


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pp. 189-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380496
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354381

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 182560644
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Circular Villages of the Monongahela Tradition

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Subject Headings

  • Monongahela River Valley (W. Va. and Pa.) -- Antiquities.
  • Social archaeology -- Monongahela River Valley (W. Va. and Pa.).
  • Land settlement patterns -- Monongahela River Valley (W. Va. and Pa.).
  • Central-plan buildings -- Monongahela River Valley (W. Va. and Pa.).
  • Indian architecture -- Monongahela River Valley (W. Va. and Pa.).
  • Indians of North America -- Dwellings -- Monongahela River Valley (W. Va. and Pa.).
  • Indians of North America -- Dwellings -- Pennsylvania.
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