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Blackland Prairies of the Gulf Coastal Plain

Nature, Culture, and Sustainability

Edited by Evan Peacock and Timothy Schauwecker, with contributions from Scott Si

Publication Year: 2003

This comprehensive study of one of the most ecologically rich regions of the Southeast underscores the relevance of archaeological research in understanding long-term cultural change.

Taking a holistic approach, this compilation gathers ecological, historical, and archaeological research written on the distinctive region of the Southeast called the Gulf coast blackland prairie. Ranging from the last glacial period to the present day, the case studies provide a broad picture of how the area has changed through time and been modified by humans, first with nomadic bands of Indians trailing the grazing animals and then by Euro-American settlers who farmed the rich agricultural area. Contemporary impacts include industrialization, aquaculture, population growth, land reclamation, and wildlife management.

It is believed that the Black Belt and the Great Plains were contiguous in the past and shared the same prairie vegetation, insects, and large fauna, such as bison. Swaths and patches of limestone-based soils still weave a biological corridor through what is now Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. In analyzing this distinct grassland ecosystem, the essays compare both the mega and minute flora and fauna sustained by the land in the past and present; reveal what foods were harvested by early inhabitants, their gathering techniques, and diet changes over the 10,000-year period of native occupancy; survey the documents of early explorers for descriptions of the landform, its use, and the lives of inhabitants at the time of contact; and look at contemporary efforts to halt abuse and reverse damage to this unique and shrinking biome.

This book demonstrates that the blackland prairie has always been an important refuge for a teeming array of biological species, including humans. It will have wide scholarly appeal as well as general interest and will be welcomed by archaeologists, biologists, botanists, ecologists, historians, librarians, politicians, land managers, and national, state, and local administrators.

Evan Peacock is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Mississippi State University and a contributor to The Woodland Southeast. Timothy Schauwecker is a biologist with Mississippi State University.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi


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pp. xii-xiii

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1. Introduction: The Nature, Culture, and Sustainability of Blackland Prairies

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pp. 1-7

For centuries the prairie ecosystems of North America have held a special fascination for naturalists, historians, artists, and travelers. The extraordinary biotic richness, the endemic species, the sweeping vistas, the terrifying conflagrations, and the complex Native American cultures are but a few of the characteristics that continue to capture the popular imagination and invite scientific inquiry. ...


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2. Paleoenvironment and Biogeography of the Mississippi Black Belt: Evidence from Insects

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pp. 11-26

Grass-dominated communities occur in a variety of edaphic and climatic conditions in the southeastern United States, as reviewed and characterized by DeSelm and Murdock (1993). A diversity of upland grasslands are present in the upper Coastal Plain and interior areas of the region, including serpentine barrens in the Piedmont (Radford...

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3. Terrestrial Gastropods from Archaeological Contexts in the Black Belt Province of Mississippi

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pp. 27-47

The role of Native Americans in shaping pre-European landscapes is little understood. The myth of American Indians as “natural conservationists”—as people in balance with nature in both a spiritual and a practical sense—remains very strong indeed (Denevan 1992; Peacock 1998a), despite archaeological and historical evidence to the contrary...

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4. The Application of a Small-mammal Model in Paleoenvironmental Analysis

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pp. 48-63

Few of today’s environments and landscapes have not been influenced by human development or culturally modified to some extent. The activities of past human populations have led to continuous alterations of the landscape, creating new ecological niches and habitats. Ethnohistorical and ethnographic documents have furnished some...

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5. A Comparison of Three Methods of Paleoenvironmental Analysis at an Archaeological Site on the Mississippi Black Prairie

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pp. 64-79

Using biotic data from archaeological sites to “reconstruct” environ-mental settings in locales inhabited by past human beings is one of the standard goals of environmental archaeology (e.g., Walsh 1999). Butzer (1982:6), for example, suggested that the “primary goal of environmental archaeology should be to define the characteristics and processes of...

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6. Louisiana Prairies

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pp. 80-93

Prairies are one of the best-studied plant associations in the world. Thousands of papers and books have been produced on them and entire conferences focus on special aspects of their ecology, management,and restoration (Sims and Risser 2000). Louisiana prairies were documented in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by land surveyors,...

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7. Blackland Prairie Landscapes of Southwestern Arkansas: Historical Perspective, Present Status, and Restoration Potential

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pp. 94-109

Southwestern Arkansas, as the term is used here, includes all or parts of seven counties recognized as a distinctive region of the state, the Southwestern Arkansas Section of the West Gulf Coastal Plain Natural Division (Foti 1974). This section is underlain by geological deposits from the Cretaceous period, in contrast to the Tertiary-period deposits...

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8. A Plant Community Classification for Arkansas’s Blackland Prairie Ecosystem

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pp. 110-145

The primary purpose for developing a plant community classification is to provide information on plant communities useful to conservation planning and ecological management (Grossman et al. 1994). Plant community classifications define groups of plants that share biotic similarities and abiotic, system process, and structural characteristics....

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9. Plant and Soil Interactions in Prairie Remnants of the Jackson Prairie Region, Mississippi

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pp. 146-163

Historical accounts by travelers and explorers locate and describe prairie areas in Mississippi dating back to Hernando de Soto’s expedition in the sixteenth century (Rostlund 1957). The Mississippi Natural Heritage Program has identified and described more than 54 current prairie remnants in the Jackson Prairie region of Mississippi (Figure 9.1). They...


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10. Prehistoric Settlement Patterning on the Mississippi Black Prairie

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pp. 167-193

The Black Prairie of Mississippi and Alabama sometimes has been treated as an area where, because little archaeological knowledge exists, there was little activity in prehistoric times. In Mississippi, such an assumption may be accurate for large expanses of low-relief interior uplands, where surface water is at a premium...

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11. Water-resource Controls on Human Habitation in the Black Prairie of North-Central Mississippi

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pp. 194-211

The importance of water as a factor influencing culture cannot be overstated. The development of water resources has always challenged human ingenuity as people have attempted to meet this basic need for survival. Nearly 4,000 years ago the king of Babylon boasted of making the desert bloom after bringing water to it. ...

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12. Osage Orange Bows, Indian Horses, and the Blackland Prairie of Northeastern Texas

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pp. 212-236

By about 1,100 years ago most of the Indian tribes of southeastern North America were interrelated through trade, diplomacy, warfare, and perhaps religious proselytizing (Brown 1975:29; Galloway 1992: 179; Griffin 1985:62; Williams 1981:11). Archaeologists refer to such networks of social and economic relationships...


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13. Rediscovery and Management of Prairie Remnants of the Bienville National Forest, East-Central Mississippi

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pp. 239-245

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologic map of Mississippi, the Jackson group formation covers approximately 1.4 million acres (566,572 ha), or about 5 percent of the state. The formation is composed of Eocene-age sediments, mostly of green and gray calcareous Yazoo clay containing some sand and marl. Within its western...

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14. Plant Assemblage Response to Disturbance at a Blackland Prairie Restoration Site in Northeastern Mississippi

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pp. 246-253

Grasslands constitute the most imperiled and least protected biome in North America, and the area of native prairie has declined rapidly in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries because of agricultural pressure (Weaver and Fitzpatrick 1934). As a result, much recent scientific research has dealt with reestablishing and maintaining prairie...

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15. Restoration of a Prairie Remnant in the Black Belt of Mississippi

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pp. 254-261

Many individuals and groups have become involved in preserving and restoring native prairies and other habitats in recent years. The terms preservation and restoration have been used broadly, and sometimes interchangeably, to cover a variety of conservation activities. In general, preservation involves more restricted management for...

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16. Priorities for the Future: Planning for Sustainable Multiple Use

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pp. 262-278

Planning and sustainability as regarded today are fundamentally similar because of their emphasis on quality of life in natural and built environments. Sustainability related to environmental concerns is a very recent development, dating to the United Nations Brundtland Commission of 1987. However, its development parallels that of plan-...

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17. Conclusion: Theory and Applications in the Study of Human/Nature Interactions

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pp. 279-282

A host of specialized disciplines and subdisciplines of ecology, anthropology, and other fields make the study of human/nature interactions an explicit goal. These include human ecology, behavioral ecology, cultural ecology, historical ecology, “symbolic ecology,” “ethnoecology,”cultural geography, historical geography, “human ecodynamics,” and...

References Cited

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pp. 283-336


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pp. 337-341


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pp. 343-348

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382919
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817312152

Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gulf Coast (U.S.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Human ecology -- Southern States.
  • Indians of North America -- Southern States -- Antiquities.
  • Prairies -- Southern States -- History.
  • Paleoecology -- Southern States.
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