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Moundville's Economy

Written by Paul D. Welch

Publication Year: 1991

A Dan Josselyn Memorial Publication

Anthropologists have long talked about chiefdoms as a form of sociopolitical organization, and for several decades Elman Service's description of chiefdoms has been widely accepted as definitive. Nevertheless, in the 1970s, scholars began to question whether all, or any, chiefdoms had the entire range of characteristics described by Service. Most of the questions focused on the (nonmarket) economic organization of these polities, and several contrasting economic models were suggested. None of the models, however, was comprehensively tested against actual chiefdom economies.

This study examines the economic organization of the late prehistoric (A.D. 1000 to 1540) chiefdom centered at Moundville, Alabama. Rather than attempting to show that this case fits one or another model, the economic organization is determined empirically using archaeological data. The pattern of production and distribution of subsistence goods, domestic nonutilitarian goods, and imported prestige goods does not fit precisely any of the extant models. Because Moundville's economy was organized in a way that promoted stability, it may be no accident that Moundville was the dominant regional polity for several hundred years. This research opens a new field of archaeological investigation: the relationship between fine details of economic organization and large-scale political fortunes.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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Front Matter

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

Figures and Tables

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pp. vii-xi

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p. xiii

Much of the information in this book comes from the works of a group of scholars who have collaborated on Moundville research for over a decade. In addition to citing the various members of the group at the appropriate places in the text, I...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-5

This study combines archaeological site catchment and locational data; stylistic, technological, and functional analysis of artifacts; and analysis of botanical and faunal remains in an effort to reconstruct the economy of a prehistoric chiefdom. There are several reasons for undertaking this study, beyond merely adding to our knowledge of past lifeways. Among students of cultural evolution there is widespread agreement that...

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2. Theoretical Background

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pp. 6-22

The term chiefdom came to have a technical meaning in anthropology during the 1950s. Carneiro (1981) has recently reviewed this process, and interested readers are referred to his article for details. In brief, Oberg (1955) and Steward and Faron (1959) first used the term in a defined sense, to denote ranked, multivillage...

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3. The Test Case

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pp. 23-75

The Mississippian chiefdom centered at Moundville, Alabama, during the eleventh to sixteenth centuries A.D., is archaeologically well known. An unusually large body of data on the chiefdom already exists, both in the literature and in museums. Previous analyses of...

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4. Subsistence

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pp. 76-133

The production, distribution, and consumption of food is a vital sector of any economy. Thus, it seems a good place to begin an examination of the economic structure of a chiefdom. The redistribution model and the mobilization model posit very different ways for the subsistence sector...

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5. Craft Production

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pp. 134-178

The production of nonsubsistence goods is examined in this chapter. Rather than repeating the cumbersome term nonsubsistence goods, I will use the term craft items. In common usage, this term carries connotations about the mode of production and visual attractiveness of the items, so that we think of...

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6. Structure and Operation of Moundville's Economy

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pp. 179-199

The pattern of production and distribution of goods in the Moundville chiefdom can be diagrammed in the same way as the economic models described in chapter two. Figure 6.1 depicts the economic structure of the chiefdom, though the complexity of the diagram has been reduced by showing only four local centers, rather than the six actually present in...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 200-201

As a brief conclusion to this study, I think a review of its limitations and its unanswered questions is appropriate. The model of Moundville's economic organization that I present is an incomplete picture. It is based on current archaeological data, whose limitations I have repeatedly pointed out. The picture...

References Cited

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pp. 202-219


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pp. 220-227

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About the Author

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p. 229

Paul D. Welch is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Queens College, City University of New York. He received a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and his master's and doctorate from the University of Michigan.

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384388
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817305123

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 1991

OCLC Number: 44957372
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Moundville's Economy

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Subject Headings

  • Mississippian culture -- Alabama.
  • Moundville Archaeological Park (Moundville, Ala.).
  • Indians of North America -- Alabama -- Economic conditions.
  • Indians of North America -- Alabama -- Antiquities.
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