Mississippian chiefdom organization
Wood, Malcolm Jared
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This study reconstructs the chronological and sociopolitical relationships among three closely-spaced Mississippian period (A.D. 900-1600) mound sites: Lawton, Spring Lake, and Red Lake. Such closely-spaced mound sites have traditionally been explained as representing administrative tiers in hierarchically-organized chiefdoms. Alternate explanations include the fusion of two or more chiefdoms into a single non-hierarchical polity, and alternating use of mound centers within a single chiefdom. I and archaeologists from the University of South Carolina conducted archaeological survey and excavation of the three sites. Each was contour mapped, systematically shovel-tested, and had test units placed in mound flanks, habitation areas, and plazas. Analyses of over 58,000 potsherds and 14 radiocarbon dates show the sites were contemporaries during the Hollywood ceramic phase (A.D. 1250-1350). Site mapping and test excavations reveal the sites are Mississippian in design, and conform to the architectural traditions of the Savannah River valley. Each site exhibits a formal mound and plaza complex surrounded by a habitation area. Red Lake has three mounds, Lawton has two, and Spring Lake one. Although Red Lake has the most mounds, Lawton occupies a more favorable terrace landform, has the largest single construction stage mound, and has the only confirmed defensive ditch and palisade among the sites. In addition, the communal labor required to construct the mounds, ditch, and palisade at Lawton is over four times greater than that required for the Red Lake mounds, and over 12 times greater than that required for the Spring Lake mound. I conclude the sites are different enough to merit hierarchical ranking, with Lawton designated as the primary mound center. This study increases our knowledge in several ways. Current explanations for the relationships among closely-spaced mound sites are evaluated. Lawton, Spring Lake, and Red Lake do not appear to be fused chiefdoms, or occupied in an alternating fashion. Instead, they may represent administrative centers of a complex chiefdom. The research methods employed in this study can be applied to other closely-spaced Mississippian mound sites, potentially revealing patterns in the way they were politically organized. Such research will increase our general understanding of the nature of chiefdom organization.