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On the periphery of the Early Mississippian world: Looking within and beyond northeastern Florida

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Archaeologists interested in the late prehistory of the Southeast have tended to fix their attention on sedentary, mound-building agricultural groups, often excluding those that lacked farming and institutionalized societal ranking, the hallmarks of Mississippian life. Coastal societies of the period given any consideration are usually those depicted as most similar to interior Mississippian chiefdoms; that is, coastal groups dependent on fish and other wild resources, with supplementary swidden agriculture and hierarchical sociopolitical organization. Southeastern North America, however, was not a socially and politically uniform landscape, and not all late prehistoric groups were farmers, nor were they all organized as chiefdoms. This article focuses on the St. Johns II peoples of northeastern Florida, who were coastal fisher-hunter-gatherers with a communally oriented political economy during the early Mississippi period (AD 900-1250). These coastal peoples were not cut off from the Mississippian world, but rather were actively engaged in interaction and exchange networks, that brought utilitarian artifacts, exotica, and information to northeastern Florida.
... Residents of Mill Cove and Mt. Royal were consumers of foreign goods and raw materials that concluded their long travels and use lives in St. Johns mortuary or ritual contexts (Ashley 2002(Ashley , 2012Ashley and Rolland 2014). In the past, researchers typically assumed that these exotic items made their way to northeastern Florida through either down-the-line or direct trade between mound (nodal) centers, although these two mechanisms are not mutually exclusive (Brown et al. 1990;Milanich 1994:269;Payne and Scarry 1998:42-48). ...
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No area along the far edges of the Mississippian world is as remote from Cahokia as northeastern Florida. But objects of possible Cahokian derivation, though limited in number, made their way to this distant locale The most compelling material evidence in Florida for any kind of connection to Cahokia comes from the Mill Cove Complex and Mt. Royal along the St. Johns River of the northern peninsula. Situated about 100 km from one another, these two fisher-hunter-gatherer communities were recipients of copper and stone artifacts that likely originated in the American Bottom, some 1200 km away. The overall geographical distribution of Cahokian styles and artifacts enmeshed varied internal and external processes and flows that encompassed exploration, migration, diaspora, trade, and politics. While no evidence exists for a Cahokian outpost or diaspora as far south as Florida, the presence of American Bottom artifacts along the St. Johns River could have involved more than the stock answer of simple down-the-line-exchange. This essay explores issues of long-distance travel, direct contact, knowledge seeking, object biographies, and diplomacy among peoples from these geographically disparate locales.
... Wild plants, nuts, and fruits were procured, but farming was not practiced. Far-reaching social relationships ensured a flow of ideas and nonlocal materials, which meant that St. Johns II societies were never isolated from events and developments of the early Mississippian world (Ashley 2002Ashley , 2012). The most salient features of the Mill Cove Complex are the Grant (8DU14) and ...
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The Mill Cove Complex is an early Mississippi period settlement and mortuary center situated near the mouth of the St. Johns River, Florida. The complex consists of habitation and ritual middens, earthen causeways, and the Grant and Shields mounds. Although situated on the outskirts of the Mississippian world, residents of Mill Cove acquired exotic artifacts and raw materials from far-flung areas of eastern North America, including Cahokia. Focusing on a special event or ritual midden known as Kinzey’s Knoll, this chapter explores social memory and the use of pieces of the past in ritual at Mill Cove.
... As noted in the research of Crawford and Smith Smith and Crawford 1997), supportive evidence for this seasonal pattern has not been found despite much searching. Instead, a hypothesis involving a greater degree of sedentism, perhaps not unlike the Late Archaic riverine (Russo et al. 1992) or even Mississippian (Ashley 2002) adaptations of eastern Florida should be at least entertained. While the data from the Forster site cannot be considered proof of this greater degree of sedentism, it can be argued as being supportive rather than contradicting this alternate view. ...
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... The south side of the St. Johns River also marks a cultural frontier of sorts, in that it presents a somewhat abrupt line of demarcation between material distributions of the Savannah-St. Mary's-San Pedro cultural tradition and the St. Johns cultural tradition to the south (see below; Ashley, 2002Ashley, , 2009. ...
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