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Light on the Path

The Anthropology and History of the Southeastern Indians

Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Robbie Ethridge, Adam King, Jerald T. Milanich, Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Marvin T. Smith

Publication Year: 2006

A seamless social history of the native peoples of the American South, bridging prehistory and history.
The past 20 years have witnessed a change in the study of the prehistory and history of the native peoples of the American South. This paradigm shift is the bridging of prehistory and history to fashion a seamless social history that includes not only the 16th-century Late Mississippian period and the 18th-century colonial period but also the largely forgotten--and critically important--century in between.  The shift is in part methodological, for it involves combining methods from anthropology, history, and archaeology. It is also conceptual and theoretical, employing historical and archaeological data to reconstruct broad patterns of history--not just political history with Native  Americans as a backdrop, nor simply an archaeology with added historical specificity, but a true social history of the Southeastern Indians, spanning their entire existence in the American South.

The scholarship underlying this shift comes from many directions, but much of the groundwork can be attributed to Charles Hudson. The papers in this volume were contributed by Hudson’s colleagues and former students (many now leading scholars themselves) in his honor.  The assumption links these papers is that of a historical transformation between Mississippian societies and the Indian societies of the historic era that requires explanation and critical analysis.

In all of the chapters, the legacy of Hudson’s work is evident. Anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians are storming the bridge that connects prehistory and history in a manner unimaginable 20 years ago.  While there remains much work to do on the path toward understanding this transformation and constructing a complete social history of the Southeastern Indians, the work of Charles Hudson and his colleagues have shown the way.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover Page

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This volume contains much of the proceedings of a day-long symposium honoring Charles Hudson on the occasion of his retirement from the University of Georgia. Charles Hudson has had a long and distinguished career as an anthropologist, educator, and scholar. He has authored or coauthored eight books ...

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pp. 1-25

When Marc Bloch wrote these words—working from his knapsack as he fought with the French resistance in World War II—he was describing a new way of doing history. This new vision for history would later come to be known as the Annales school. Bloch and his fellow Annalistes called for a far broader vision of history ...

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1. The Nature of Mississippian Regional Systems

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pp. 26-42

Archaeologists working in the Mississippian Southeast tend to focus their research on individual sites or chiefdoms to the exclusion of interpolity, regional-level relationships. Granted, we recognize that Mississippian chiefdoms were often hostile to each other and that prestige goods were exchanged across their borders. ...

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2. Lithics, Shellfish, and Beavers

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pp. 43-56

Charles Hudson has consistently and explicitly taught us to think about southeastern Indians, their world, and their worldview as a rational and complete universe within which we can discover a separate truth from that seen with our ethnocentric American eyes. In that vein we will attempt in this chapter to tie together several separately observed phenomena ...

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3. The Cussita Migration Legend: History, Ideology,and the Politics of Mythmaking

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pp. 57-93

During my two years as a graduate student at the University of Georgia, Charles Hudson imparted unto me many valuable lessons about the craft of ethnohistory. Among those lessons, two stand out in particular. The first concerns Charlie’s willingness to search for and employ innovative theoretical models derived from other disciplines ...

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4. Coalescent Societies

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pp. 94-122

Twenty-five years ago to speak of “chiefdoms” situated one in the forefront of research in Southeastern archaeology; now, the term chiefdom is an accepted label of convenience, and routinely the real research lies in the dissection and analysis of this species. Thirty years ago our broader discipline of anthropology was only beginning to use history ...

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5. “A Bold and Warlike People”: The Basis of Westo Power

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pp. 123-132

Among all the puzzles of southeastern Indian history, the Westo problem has been one of the most intractable for archaeologists and historians. From the time the Westos first appeared on the Virginia frontier in 1656, they were arguably the most powerful and influential Native group known among the European colonies of the seventeenth-century Southeast. ...

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6. New Light on the Tsali Affair

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pp. 133-164

The Tsali affair is among the most celebrated episodes in the history of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Tsali, or Charley, was an elderly Cherokee who lived on the banks of the Nantahala River in western North Carolina at the time of the forced Cherokee removal to Oklahoma in 1838.1 ...

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7. “A Sprightly Lover Is the Most Prevailing Missionary”: Intermarriage between Europeans and Indians in the Eighteenth-Century South

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pp. 165-178

Like many of his contemporaries, Virginian William Byrd grappled with the issue of a continuing Native presence in North America, especially the Southeast. In his account of surveying the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia in 1728, he recorded specific encounters with Indians and described the Native cultures of the region. ...

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8. The Historic Period Transformation of Mississippian Societies

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pp. 179-195

It has long been understood that the biological, social, and economic changes brought about by the coming of Europeans to the interior Southeast had a tremendous impact on Native societies. In general, it is often assumed that indigenous social and political structures were so altered by the coming of Europeans ...

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9. Bridging Prehistory and History in the Southeast: Evaluating the Utility of the Acculturation Concept

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pp. 196-206

As countless researchers will attest, forging an effective and seamless link between prehistory and history in the southeastern United States is a daunting task. Bridging this gap is made all the more difficult by significant discontinuities and transformations occasioned by the trauma of the early European colonial era, ...

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10. Creating the Shatter Zone: Indian Slave Traders and the Collapse of the Southeastern Chiefdoms

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pp. 207-218

Seventeen years ago, Charles Hudson, who was guiding me through my master’s thesis, suggested I write a paper on the Indian slave trade because he believed it was an essential element to understanding the colonial experience of the southern Indians. The paper, entitled “Flintlocks and Slavecatchers: Economic Transformations of the Georgia Indians,” ...

References Cited

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pp. 219-270


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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384197
E-ISBN-10: 0817384197
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817352875
Print-ISBN-10: 0817352872

Page Count: 297
Illustrations: Illus.
Publication Year: 2006