Signs of Power
The Rise of Cultural Complexity in the Southeast
Publication Year: 2004
Traces the sources of power and large-scale organization of prehistoric peoples among Archaic societies.
By focusing on the first instances of mound building, pottery making, fancy polished stone and bone, as well as specialized chipped stone, artifacts, and their widespread exchange, this book explores the sources of power and organization among Archaic societies. It investigates the origins of these technologies and their effects on long-term (evolutionary) and short-term (historical) change.
The characteristics of first origins in social complexity belong to 5,000- to 6,000-year-old Archaic groups who inhabited the southeastern United States. In Signs of Power, regional specialists identify the conditions, causes, and consequences that define organization and social complexity in societies. Often termed "big mound power," these considerations include the role of demography, kinship, and ecology in sociocultural change; the meaning of geometry and design in sacred groupings; the degree of advancement in stone tool technologies; and differentials in shell ring sizes that reflect social inequality.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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This book was born on a mustard-smeared napkin in a foyer of a New Orleans hotel. It all started innocently enough—Joe Saunders, Bob Connolly, Phil Carr, and Jon Gibson brainstorming about a symposium we wanted to offer to the 1999 Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Pensacola. Well, maybe it was not so innocent: scribbling covered both sides of the napkin. ...
1 Big Mounds, Big Rings, Big Power
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Mounds have quickened the pulse of American antiquarians and archaeologists for generations. They still do. Who among you could stay calm after hacking a trail through a bottomland-hardwood jungle and suddenly realizing that the incline you’re struggling to climb is no natural levee but a lost Indian mound? Or stand atop a mound on a starlit night with a handful of fellow archaeologists and keep from getting caught up...
2 Late Archaic Fisher-Foragers in the Apalachicola– Lower Chattahoochee Valley, Northwest Florida– South Georgia/Alabama
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The archaeological constructs of the Late Archaic and prehistoric cultural complexity are examined here with a discussion of data from the Apalachicola–lower Chattahoochee River valley in northwest Florida, southwest Georgia, and southeast Alabama (Figure 2.1). The Apalachicola is the largest Florida river, originating at the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, at the Florida-Georgia border, and ®owing southward to the Gulf of Mexico. ...
3 Measuring Shell Rings for Social Inequality
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Two basic interpretations of shell rings vie for archaeological acceptance. One posits that rings are the daily subsistence refuse incidentally tossed behind or underfoot of households (Trinkley 1997; Waring and Larson 1968:273; cf. White, this volume). The other suggests that shell rings are among the earliest examples of large-scale public architecture in North America, intentionally built for ritual and ceremony (Cable 1997; Waring 1968a:243). ...
4 Regional-Scale Interaction Networks and the Emergence of Cultural Complexity along the Northern Margins of the Southeast
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The emergence of culturally complex hunter-gatherer societies has been a topic of great anthropological interest for at least the past 15 years (Arnold, ed. 1996; Johnson and Earle 1987; Price and Brown 1985). In 1985, James Brown published a seminal article on the emergence of cultural complexity in the prehistoric American Midwest. He suggested several indicators of emerging hunter-gatherer complexity including the appearance of permanent habitations, food storage facilities, plant domestication, cemeteries, and interregional exchange. ...
5 The Green River in Comparison to the Lower Mississippi Valley during the Archaic: To Build Mounds or Not to Build Mounds?
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In the mid-latitude regions of North America along the Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee river systems, Archaic period hunters and gatherers created extensive, deeply stratified middens exemplified by sites such as Koster and Black Earth in Illinois, Indian Knoll in Kentucky, and Eva in Tennessee. Many archaeologists interpret these sites as evidence of increased sedentary behavior and complex social interaction
6 Cultural Complexity in the Middle Archaic of Mississippi
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Mississippi is often thought of as a poor state. From an economic standpoint, this is true. However, if one were to argue from a cultural perspective, Mississippi would have to be thought of as a very wealthy state. The musical heritage of this relatively small state is second to none. Mississippi is the birthplace of country music, blues, and rock and roll. The literary heritage is also without peer. ...
7 The Burkett Site (23MI20): Implications for Cultural Complexity and Origins
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The nature and complexity of Late Archaic O’Bryan Ridge manifestations and their relationship to Poverty Point culture in the Lower Mississippi Valley have been controversial topics for more than half a century. When baked clay objects and other trappings of material culture similar to those in Poverty Point assemblages were first identified at sites in the Cairo Lowlands of southeastern Missouri, Stephen Williams characterized them as a regional variant of Poverty Point (S. Williams 1954). ...
8 Poverty Point Chipped-Stone Tool Raw Materials: Inferring Social and Economic Strategies
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It is easy to become awed by the Poverty Point site located in northeast Louisiana (Figure 1.1). Poverty Point was occupied by hunter-gatherers but included a built landscape with a geometric layout suggestive of master planning (Clark, this volume; Gibson 1973:69, 1987:19–22). Additionally, an interesting array of material culture indicative of intense and wide-scale trade and significant production activities was present. ...
9 Are We Fixing to Make the Same Mistake Again?
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The identification of mounds dating to ca. 5000–6000 B.P. has required archaeologists to rethink the process of social evolution. The existence of Archaic mounds provides us with one of those rare research opportunities of a win-win situation. Archaic period mounds are significant if they were constructed by societies with social inequality, and they are equally significant if they were constructed by egalitarian cultures. ...
10 Surrounding the Sacred: Geometry and Design of Early Mound Groups as Meaning and Function
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Squier and Davis’s (1848) fabulous study of early mound groups ranks as the best early archaeological project in the New World; even today, the data presented and preserved are unsurpassed. Yet, a century and a half after the fact, the early promise of their study remains unrealized. In this essay I revisit their inferences that early mound builders had a standard of measurement, geometry, and engineering skills for planning sites. ...
11 Crossing the Symbolic Rubicon in the Southeast
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With the discovery of earthen mounds dating to the sixth millennium before present in the American Southeast, the enduring anthropological question of the emergence of cultural complexity returns to an unusual setting. Although the Poverty Point complex of northeast Louisiana once garnered its share of attention as regards emergent complexity (Ford and Webb 1956; Gibson 1974), recent archaeological discourse over its genesis and organization has downplayed the level of sociopolitical development attending mound construction and long-distance exchange...
12 Explaining Sociopolitical Complexity in the Foraging Adaptations of the Southeastern United States: The Roles of Demography, Kinship, and Ecology in Sociocultural Evolution
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With the discovery of the Watson Brake mound complex in Louisiana (Saunders et al. 1997), archaeologists have had to reevaluate causal factors in the rise of sociocultural complexity in North America. Previously, archaeologists have been strongly influenced by the stage concept of cultural development that sees the rise of sociopolitical complexity as a series of gradual, linear, steplike developments culminating in the Mississippian Tradition...
13 The Power of Beneficent Obligation in First Mound– Building Societies
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Mound building began in the Lower Mississippi Valley and Florida more than fifty-five hundred years ago. Some mounds were large, and sometimes they were strung together in arrangements that lead us to think the unthinkable. Images of mounds as territorial and identity markers, as cosmic sociograms and creation metaphors, and even as massive earthen calendars aligned with the stars and moon creep into our consciousness (Byers 1998; Charles and Buikstra 1983...
14 Archaic Mounds and the Archaeology of Southeastern Tribal Societies
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The recognition a decade ago that Southeastern societies engaged in complex shell and earthen mound building more than 5,000 years ago is revolutionizing our thinking about the archaeology of the region. In this chapter I discuss some of the implications of this research and where it will take us in the years to come.1 In brief, the discovery of Archaic mounds has forced us to confront head-on how tribal societies operate...
15 Old Mounds, Ancient Hunter-Gatherers, and Modern Archaeologists
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When asked to be a discussant of the symposium that led to this book, I jumped at the chance. The papers promised to be informative and provocative, but I also had another interest in the symposium. I feel research on the hunting-and-gathering societies of the southern Eastern Woodlands is likely to gain momentum in the near future, and these essays can play a big part in defining the trajectory of that work. ...
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Publication Year: 2004