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Plains Earthlodges

Ethnographic and Archaeological Perspectives

Edited by Donna C. Roper and Elizabeth P. Pauls, with contributions from Kenneth

Publication Year: 2005

A survey of Native American earthlodge research from across the Great Plains.

Early explorers initially believed the earthlodge homes of Plains village peoples were made entirely of earth. Actually, however, earthlodges are timber-frame structures, with the frame covered by successive layers of willows, grass, and earth, and with a tunnel-like entryway and a smoke hole in the center of the roof. The products of nearly a millennium of engineering development, historic period lodges were massively built. With diameters up to 60 feet across, they comprise the largest and most complex artifacts built on the Plains until the 20th century. Sheltering nuclear or extended families and their possessions—beds, stored food and clothing, weapons, sweatlodges, and even livestock—they shaped Plains villagers' lives both physically and symbolically.

This collection of papers explores current research in the ethnography and archaeology of Plains earthlodges, considering a variety of Plains tribes, including the Mandan, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, and their late prehistoric period predecessors. Acknowledged experts in the field discuss topics including lodge construction, architecture, maintenance, deterioration, and lifespan; the ritual practices performed in them; their associations with craft traditions, medicine lodges, and the Sun Dance; their gender symbolism; and their geophysical signatures.

With technological advances allowing an ever greater recognition of archaeological evidence in situ, future earthlodge research will yield even more information on their owners and residents. This volume provides a much-needed baseline for such research as well as comparative data for the occurrence of earthlodges in other sections of North America.

Jennifer R. Bales, Donald J. Blakeslee, Kenneth L. Kvamme, Stephen C. Lensink, Margot P. Liberty, Elizabeth P. Pauls, Donna C. Roper, Michael Scullin, W. Raymond Wood

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vi-vii


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pp. viii-xi


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pp. xii-xiii

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pp. xiv-xv

It is curious indeed that a serious study of the Plains earthlodge has been so long in coming. The earthlodge has been known in some detail now for exactly two centuries, ever since the passage of Lewis and Clark along the upper Missouri River. It also has been nearly a century since Clark Wissler popularized the Plains culture area concept in his The American Indian. Wissler did not include the earthlodge among his diagnostics for the Plains...

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pp. xvi-xvii

The earthlodge is the largest and most complex artifact present in archaeological sites on the Great Plains of North America. Untold thousands of earthlodges (a term we construe somewhat broadly, as we discuss in Chapter I) were built over a period of about a millennium and, in the past century, archaeologists have excavated hundreds of their remains. Yet despite the importance of the earthlodge, the framework for their interpretation is poorly...

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A Note on Plains Village Taxonomy and Chronology

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pp. xviii-xx

The authors in this book make repeated reference to the culture-historic taxa defined for parts of the Plains. To avoid distracting digressions throughout and the even worse annoyance of leaving the nonspecialist in the dark, we provide here a brief guide to basic time-space systematics and chronology for the Plains during approximately the previous millennium-the period during which earthlodges were used. Wedel ...

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1. What, Where, and When Is an Earthlodge?

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pp. 1-31

The earthlodge, as we discuss it in this volume, is a class of permanent, timber-frame, earth-covered dwelling (Figure 1.1) built by the agricultural village tribes of the Missouri River valley and its tributary valleys in the North American Great Plains. Plains earthlodges (also “earth lodges” or“earth-lodges” in the various sources) are prominent in the oral traditions,mythologies, and cosmologies of the people who lived in them; they are am-...

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2. Confounding Stereotypes: Building an Earthlodge for Fun and Edification

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pp. 32-50

It was 1975 and our second season at a Cambria phase site on the Minnesota River about 15 miles (24 km) upstream from Mankato and what was then Mankato State University. The site had been brought to our attention by its owner Dave Price and was thus known as the Price site (21BE36). The people of the Cambria phase were horticulturalists who raised a combination of corn, squash, and sunflowers, hunted bison, deer, and beaver, and fished in the Minnesota River. Thus we (“we” being the core group of the...

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3. Architecture as a Source of Cultural Conservation: Gendered Social, Economic, and Ritual Practices Associated with Hidatsa Earthlodges

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pp. 51-74

This chapter considers the cultural encoding of homes as material objects and as containers of action. In focusing on the interactions between the form, organization, and meaning of a given kind of dwelling, this approach is a descendant of many previous studies by anthropologists and architectural historians (e.g., Bourdieu 1973; Deetz 1977, 1982; Donley-Reid 1990; Glassie1975; Griaule 1965; Groth and Bressi 1997; Upton 1983, 1985). It also draws...

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4. From Earthlodge to Medicine Lodge? Probable Cheyenne Origins of the Sun Dance

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pp. 75-82

As a teacher for four years in the late 1950s on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, I became aware of the continuing strength and importance of that tribe’s annual Sun Dance or Medicine Lodge. With the support of tribal historian John Stands in Timber I was able to make a detailed study of the 1959 Sun Dance and to take about 150 photographs...

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5. Middle Ceramic Period Earthlodges as the Products of Craft Traditions

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pp. 83-111

From the beginning of archaeological research on the houses of the Middle Ceramic period (a.d. 1000–1400) in the Central Plains, the earthlodges of the historic village peoples were used both explicitly and tacitly as interpretive models. Thus, when Robert F. Gilder (1907) initiated excavation of the houses of the Nebraska phase early in the twentieth century, he assumed that the structures were circular and never bothered to determine their actual...

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6. Earthlodge Dynamics 101: Construction and Deterioration Issues and Their Lessons for Archaeologists

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pp. 111-132

According to Alfred Bowers (1965:65), the Hidatsa have a word, maxoxi, that designates “the dry dust that formed from the decaying of the earthlodge rafters and dropped down continuously” (visible in Karl Bodmer’s interior view reproduced as Figure 1.2 in this book). This word, which even gives its name to a clan (the Maxoxati; Bowers 1965:65), denotes a process with which the Hidatsa and other Plains earthlodge-dwellers likely were all...

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7. This Old Earthlodge Village: How Long Were Sites of the Middle Missouri Tradition Occupied?

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pp. 133-156

While the importance of knowing the duration of site occupancy has been acknowledged, concerted attempts to apply methods of estimating occupancy duration to Plains villages are limited. Dennis Toom (1992a,1992b) completed a study of Middle Missouri tradition sites in South Dakota and determined that villages were relocated approximately every 25 years,with the longest occupation of a village being 50 years. He concluded that...

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8. Geophysical Signatures of Earthlodges in the Dakotas

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pp. 157-183

In recent years the investigation of village sites in the Dakotas has seen the intensive use of geophysical surveys, a method that is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Archaeological geophysics refers to the use of various instruments to remotely measure properties of soils and sediments,such as their magnetic susceptibility or conductivity. Archaeological features, including hearths, storage pits, and house floors, often possess physical prop-...

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9. Future Directions for Earthlodge Research

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pp. 184-188

This volume began with a general discussion that attempted to define, albeit somewhat loosely, the category of material culture we call “earth-lodges.” In the process of that discussion, we made it clear that this book is intended to represent a broad sample of earthlodge research rather than a definitive statement of the field at this time. In keeping with this premise, we close with a series of questions and issues that might guide future research on...

References Cited

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pp. 189-220


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pp. 221-223


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pp. 223-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384241
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817351632

Publication Year: 2005