ArticlePublisher preview available

Local and “Global” Perspectives on the Middle Woodland Southeast

Authors:
To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.

Abstract and Figures

During the Middle Woodland period, from 200 BC to AD 600, southeastern societies erected monuments, interacted widely, and produced some of the most striking material culture of the pre-Columbian era, but these developments are often overshadowed by the contemporaneous florescence of Hopewell culture in Ohio. I argue that the demonstrable material links between the Middle Woodland Southeast and Midwest demand that we cease to analyze these regional archaeological records in isolation and adopt multiscalar perspectives on the social fields that emerged from and impacted local Middle Woodland societies. In synthesizing recent research on Middle Woodland settlement, monumentality, interaction, and social organization, I make explicit comparisons between the Middle Woodland Southeast and Ohio Hopewell, revealing both commonalities and contrasts. New methodological approaches in the Southeast, including geophysical survey techniques, Bayesian chronological modeling, and high-resolution provenance analyses, promise to further elucidate site-specific histories and intersite connectivity. By implementing theoretical frameworks that simultaneously consider these local and global dimensions of Middle Woodland sociality, we may establish the southeastern Middle Woodland period as an archaeological context capable of elucidating the deep history of the Eastern Woodlands as well as long-standing issues surrounding middle-range societies.
This content is subject to copyright. Terms and conditions apply.
Local and ‘‘Global’’ Perspectives on the Middle
Woodland Southeast
Alice P. Wright
1
Published online: 3 August 2016
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract During the Middle Woodland period, from 200 BC to AD 600, south-
eastern societies erected monuments, interacted widely, and produced some of the
most striking material culture of the pre-Columbian era, but these developments are
often overshadowed by the contemporaneous florescence of Hopewell culture in
Ohio. I argue that the demonstrable material links between the Middle Woodland
Southeast and Midwest demand that we cease to analyze these regional archaeo-
logical records in isolation and adopt multiscalar perspectives on the social fields
that emerged from and impacted local Middle Woodland societies. In synthesizing
recent research on Middle Woodland settlement, monumentality, interaction, and
social organization, I make explicit comparisons between the Middle Woodland
Southeast and Ohio Hopewell, revealing both commonalities and contrasts. New
methodological approaches in the Southeast, including geophysical survey tech-
niques, Bayesian chronological modeling, and high-resolution provenance analyses,
promise to further elucidate site-specific histories and intersite connectivity. By
implementing theoretical frameworks that simultaneously consider these local and
global dimensions of Middle Woodland sociality, we may establish the southeastern
Middle Woodland period as an archaeological context capable of elucidating the
deep history of the Eastern Woodlands as well as long-standing issues surrounding
middle-range societies.
Keywords Southeastern United States Middle Woodland Hopewell
Monumentality Interaction
&Alice P. Wright
wrightap2@appstate.edu
1
Department of Anthropology, Appalachian State University, ASU Box 32016, Boone,
NC 28608-2016, USA
123
J Archaeol Res (2017) 25:37–83
DOI 10.1007/s10814-016-9096-5
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Rather than requesting the landowner till the entire field for a controlled, systematic surface collection, we elected to conduct a series of geophysical surveys to aid in our pursuit of those research questions. (Brewer, 1973;Cowan, 1985;Fritz, 1986;Gardner, 1987;Mueller, 2018aMueller, , 2018bWright, 2017;Yarnell & Black, 1985). ...
... Middle Woodland populations in the Southeast occupied sites both on a permanent basis as well as a seasonal one (see Branch-Raymer & Bonhage-Freund, 2011;Faulkner, 2002;Wright, 2017). ...
... Domestic sites that have been excavated are typically characterized by small clusters of structures with walls constructed of arrangements of single posts in association with storage pits and other features (Smith, 1992;Wright, 2017). The populations inhabiting many of these Middle Woodland sites constructed and maintained a variety of monumental architecture, including platform and conical mounds as well as enclosure ditches (Keith, 2013(Keith, , 2019Wright, 2014). ...
Article
Geophysical investigations have become standard in archaeological practice to map sites and help select location for excavation, but the application of these techniques in real time during excavation to help anticipate feature location and maximize recovery has not been developed. This paper presents results from both traditional geophysics and new approaches to using these methods during excavations at Rice Farm (9DW276), a Middle Woodland site located in a broad floodplain adjacent to the Etowah River in north Georgia. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) at the surface was effective in recording reflection events indicative of archaeological features, such as hearths, posts and possibly ditches. Magnetometry was helpful, but less effective due to heavy plough zone scarring and noise from modern metallic debris. High‐frequency handheld GPR was helpful in monitoring excavations in real time and assisted excavators in anticipating the locations of both large and small diameter features. Excavation of geophysical anomalies exposed important features for the interpretation of this newly documented site.
... Just as Birch (2015) calls for more attention to be paid to the connections of the Iroquoian world to societies and groups across eastern North America, this idea of a global, multiscalar perspective on the historical development of eastern North American societies is further highlighted in a recent review of the Middle Woodland societies of the southeastern United States by Wright (2017). One of the justifications for Wright's review is the continued use of culture-historical taxa to structure the interpretations of Woodland period societies in the Southeast. ...
... Specifically, Wright points out that southeastern histories are defined by the presence/absence of materials/practices that are used to define the more attractive Woodland histories of the Midwest. These complications are further exacerbated, as Wright (2017) points out, by the boundaries of state lines, regional archaeological organizations, and the persistence of traditional culture area concepts. ...
Article
Full-text available
A renewed adoption of relational perspectives by archaeologists working in eastern North America has created an opportunity to move beyond categorical approaches, those reliant on the top-down implementation of essentialist models or “types.” Instead, emerging approaches, concerned with highlighting the agential power of relationships between individuals, communities, and institutions, and, more generally, with simply moving beyond categories, are allowing archaeologists to move from the bottom-up, focusing instead on the relationships that underlie, and indeed constitute, social, political, and economic phenomena. In this paper, I synthesize recent archaeological work from across eastern North America in which archaeologists have productively moved beyond a reliance on categorical perspectives. I explicitly focus on the potential for relational perspectives to recalibrate our social and temporal referents in crafting archaeological narratives.
... Muñoz et al. (2014) contended that agricultural and silvicultural impacts were greatest near settlements, as well as along riparian corridors and along trade routes. By approximately 2,000 YBP, indigenous societies throughout the river valleys of Eastern North America were interacting widely, erecting monuments, and producing sophisticated material cultures (Wright, 2017). ...
Article
Full-text available
Dispersal and colonization are among the most important ecological processes for species persistence as they allow species to track changing environmental conditions. During the last glacial maximum (LGM), many cold-intolerant Northern Hemisphere plants retreated to southern glacial refugia. During subsequent warming periods, these species expanded their ranges northward. Interestingly, some tree species with limited seed dispersal migrated considerable distances after the LGM ~19,000 years before present (YBP). It has been hypothesized that indigenous peoples may have dispersed valued species, in some cases beyond the southern limits of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. To investigate this question, we employed a molecular genetics approach on a widespread North American understory tree species whose fruit was valued by indigenous peoples. Twenty putative anthropogenic (near pre-Columbian habitations) and 62 wild populations of Asimina triloba (pawpaw), which produces the largest edible fruit of any North American tree, were genetically assayed with nine microsatellite loci. Putative anthropogenic populations were characterized by reduced genetic diversity and greater excess heterozygosity relative to wild populations. Anthropogenic populations in regions that were glaciated during the LGM had profiles consistent with founder effects and reduced gene flow, and shared rare alleles with wild populations hundreds of kilometers away (mean = 723 km). Some of the most compelling evidence for human-mediated dispersal is that putative anthropogenic and wild populations sharing rare alleles were separated by significantly greater distances (mean = 695 km) than wild populations sharing rare alleles (mean = 607 km; p = .014). Collectively, the genetic data suggest that long-distance dispersal played an important role in the distribution of pawpaw and is consistent with the hypothesized role of indigenous peoples.
... This focus on individual characteristics builds on research conducted by processual new archaeologists roughly half a century ago. What is new is the availability of large arrays of finegrained chronological data obtained from radiocarbon and other absolute dating techniques, supplemented by increasingly refined artifact seriations and stratigraphic studies (Bayliss, 2009;Bronk Ramsey, 2009;Lulewicz, 2019b;Overholtzer, 2015;Stockhammer et al., 2015;Wright, 2014Wright, , 2017. The concurrent development of sophisticated statistical methods and computing capabilities has facilitated analyses of this burgeoning corpus of chronometric data. ...
Article
A B S T R A C T North American archaeologists must reconsider their implicit adherence to the culture history paradigm. The long-standing role of this approach to situate archaeological remains in space and time is far outweighed by the negative impacts of its underlying assumptions about the correspondence of biological and cultural groups, intragroup uniformity, discrete spatial boundaries, primordialism, and sequential change. These discredited assumptions divert attention from variability, privilege certain research questions and interpretations, hinder dialogue with other disciplines, and facilitate the misuse of archaeology for political purposes. We recommend alternative perspectives that recognize the importance of space-time context, accommodate the complexity of new suites of archaeological data, and are more consistent with what we now know about past and present social relations.
Article
Despite the prevalence of Woodland-period middens on the Gulf of Mexico’s northern coast, Woodland fisheries remain poorly known. Vertebrate and invertebrate assemblages from Plash Island (1BA134; cal AD 325–640) and Bayou St. John (1BA21; cal AD 650–1040) suggest this period was more than a prelude to Mississippian farming. Much of the coastal Woodland economy centered on reliable, productive estuarine resources, particularly molluscs and fishes that provided communities with multiple options in a resilient strategy employed for at least 700 years. A nuanced interpretation of coastal life as an array of flexible, managed responses to a dynamic estuarine environment is more plausible than a model that postulates seasonal abandonment of a productive coastal territory and valuable gear. We posit a more parsimonious interpretation: residents of Woodland fishing villages on the north-central Gulf coast skillfully and flexibly managed the opportunities and challenges of complex multi-season, year-round fisheries.
Article
Archaeologists have increasingly broadened considerations of what is “monumental” and what relations with art, architecture, and landscapes constitute monumentality. This article documents the monumentality of ditches through an examination of 11 Scioto Hopewell ditches. Well known for their ornate crafts of exotic raw materials and massive geometric earthworks – constructed of ditches and embankments, usually in tandem – Scioto Hopewell was comprised of small-scale societies of the Middle Woodland period (1950–1550 BP) of the Scioto River Valley of southern Ohio. Though garnering archaeological attention for over two centuries, most research directed at understanding earthwork construction in this region has been relatively recent and primarily focused on embankment wall construction. This article represents the first exploration of Scioto Hopewell ditch construction and demonstrates that these ditches are monumental architecture that carry various meanings and whose construction was ritualized. Establishing a basis for the monumentality of Scioto Hopewell ditches has broad implications, as there is a global record of ditches that were multivalent and multi-functional landscape features that remain understudied beyond their possible functional or pragmatic purposes. This article demonstrates the value of the systematic archaeological examination of these features and the informational potential they hold.
Article
Long-term interactions between people and places has been a focal point for archaeologists since the beginnings of the discipline. Monuments are one analytical unit of analysis that archaeologists regularly study and interpret as evidence for the ways people organize cooperative labor and inscribe on the landscape their connections to it. However, it is rare to acquire data that affords a rich and long-term description of the landscape before, during, and after a monument was built. In addition, archaeologists who study pre-textual societies are seldom afforded an opportunity to explore detailed questions relating to how monuments were engaged with after social dis-positions toward them changed. In this article we present diverse datasets obtained from a small Middle Woodland (ca. 200 cal BC-cal AD 500) ditch and embankment enclosure in the Middle Ohio Valley, USA. Drawing on those data, we offer a detailed biographical description of the site that illustrates how pre-construction use of the area influenced construction of the enclosure, describes how the enclosure was used after construction, and indicates what happened when the enclosure became evaluated differently in society.
Article
Full-text available
Elaborate Middle Woodland (ca. cal 200 BC–cal AD 500) mounds and exotic artifacts traded over long distances provide evidence for institutions that helped coordinate the gathering of large communal groups on the ancient midcontinent. However, the material heterogeneity archaeologists have documented for these societies suggests diverse material, historical, and social forces motivated communal gatherings. In this article, we introduce Middle Woodland Ceremonial Situations in the North American Midcontinent, our guest-edited issue of the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology. Contributions to this issue wrestle with the notion of “situations,” as developed by sociocultural anthropologists, to better understand the archaeological record of the Middle Woodland midcontinent. In doing so, the contributors propose new ways to frame the scalar and temporal diversity of Middle Woodland ceremonialism by focusing on the material evidence for situations where people, earth, and things converged in different ways and times to shape the ceremonial landscape of the midcontinent.
Article
Full-text available
The construction of earthen enclosures changed how the Middle Woodland landscape was monumentalized in central Kentucky. Archaeologists have long associated these monuments with important social changes, leading to modern interpretations of these mounds as material evidence for cooperative labor, large kin-based coalitions, and pan-regional ritual practices and cosmological beliefs. We conducted research at nine enclosures in central Kentucky that allowed us to examine the evidence for their potential correlation with astronomical phenomena and identify variability in how enclosures were constructed. In this article we present archaeoastronomical and geoarchaeological data from these nine sites to explore how local groups built and used geometric enclosures. Our data led us to consider the diverse ceremonial situations under which these monuments were constructed. We suggest that the variability present in, and the spread of, small enclosures reflects both the simultaneous reinterpretation and adoption of pan-regional institutions during local manifestations of a Middle Woodland situation.
Article
Full-text available
Social complexity increased dramatically during the Middle Woodland period (c. 200 bc–ad 500) in eastern North America. Adena-Hopewell societies during this period built massive burial mounds, constructed complex geometric earthen enclosures and maintained extensive trade networks in exotic craft goods. These material signatures suggest that coalition and consensus were sustained through social bonds since clear evidence for top-down leadership does not exist in Adena-Hopewell archaeology. Here, a framework grounded in new understandings of heterarchy is used to explore how coalitions were formed, organized, maintained and/or shifted as a means to coordinate labour and ritual among Middle Woodland Period groups. Through re-analysis of the Wright Mound in Kentucky, and its burial contents, new insights into heterarchical organization are used to achieve a wider, diachronic understanding of how humans in the past reached, realized and rearranged forms of consensus and coalition.
Book
The following chapters respond to a set of archaeological conversations about premodern religion that have been intensifying and show no sign of weakening in the years to come. Generally speaking, these conversations are themselves a collective response to a congeries of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century stimuli, some located within the narrow intellectual currents of archaeological debate, others impacting the discipline from the outside as archaeologists respond to changes in the weather of their wider political surroundings. © 2013 by the School for Advanced Research. All rights reserved.
Chapter
The origin and end of Scioto Hopewell culture and lifeways have puzzled archaeologists for decades. This uncertainty exists in part because, until very recently, the details of organization and operation of Scioto Hopewellian social and ceremonial life and the outlines of Scioto Hopewellian spiritual thought have not been known. How Scioto Hopewellian social and ceremonial life emerged and disappeared could not be adequately addressed when it was unclear what they were specifically and what factors might thus have caused them. Uncertainly also exists because, in this lacuna in knowledge about the inner workings of Hopewellian life, archaeologists have been forced to look for possible causes of it that were external rather than internal to it; and no reasonably convincing external causes have been found.