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Jonathan Creek: WPA era archaeology at a walled Mississippian town

Research Summary

Palisade Walls: During the eleventh century A.D., the frequency with which stout walls were constructed around settlements began to increase across the Eastern Woodlands. While some of the large Mississippian mound sites in the Southeast and southern Midwest were protected with substantial enclosures studded with bastions, other mound sites lacked these features. Typically associated with warfare, such walls reflect vertical integration involving regional elites as they vied for adherents, struggled to establish and maintain alliances, cultivated and enhanced the sanctity of chiefly office, and attempt- ed to augment their prestige and expand their spheres of influence through the use of coercive force and the construction of monuments; the walls also manifest horizontal forms of integration involving followers and allies who weighed the benefits and costs associated with a loss of autonomy in such a contentious social landscape. The implications of village fortification for the ascent, attrition, transformation, and eventual dissolution of chiefly power are explored using a case example from the lower Tennessee River valley in western Kentucky.

Ancient Architecture: The Jonathan Creek site in Kentucky was excavated in the early 1940s in an effort to uncover the community plan of an entire Mississippian town and mound center. Although the project terminated prematurely, the remnants of 89 structures representing a diverse array of architectural foundation styles were documented. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of multiple attributes, such as posthole diameter and spacing, wall-trench width and depth, roof supports, and floor area, are necessary to adequately parse the variation in architectural style, construct inferences about the above- ground appearance of buildings, and suggest origins for the diverse construction methods used at the site. At least some of the distinctive differences in foundation preparation would have resulted in diversity in the appearance of finished buildings. Time is not wholly adequate to explain this diversity. Technological and functional choices made by the ancient builders account for some of this variation, while social, genealogical, and ethnic differences, and possibly distinctive ritual customs and traditions among the residents, explain other sources of variation.