Putting the Late Prehistoric Architecture of the Central Mississippi Valley in a Mid-Continental Context
Mary Evelyn Starr
Mid-South Archaeological Conference
conference theme was the archaeology of ethnic distinctions, I chose to
look at one aspect of material culture, architecture, and attempted to
discern variation in regional architectural styles. My talk consisted
largely of illustrated examples of the Mid-South’s late prehistoric
(Mississippi period) archaeological features and a comparison with the
styles of surrounding regions with similar or differing archaeological
cultures. I also handed out a three-page table detailing several variables
relevant to all of the excavated structures from the Mid-South available
to me in journals and the contract literature (Tables 1 and 2). The area
summarized on these tables is the southern Central Mississippi Valley, the
half of the Central Valley below the traditional Ohio Confluence-Northeast
Arkansas-Southeast Missouri Mississippian core area, or roughly, from the
Memphis area to the mouth of the Arkansas River, where the Lower Valley
I used the
same hand-out for a Southeastern Archaeological Conference paper (Starr
1999). I summarize this paper as well in this chapter. The earliest
version of this paper dates to David Dye’s 1992/1993 “Chiefdoms” class,
where he asked me what comparisons of architecture has to do with the
class topic, status. I was using material I had collected for the regional
comparison to include with a report Jamie Brandon and I were writing about
the large late Walls phase house we had uncovered in testing a daub
concentration at the Irby site (eventually presented as a Mid-South paper,
Brandon and Starr in press). I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer David’s
question, other than the obvious points of size and placement in the
village plan. I’m not exactly sure what architecture has to do with this
Mid-South theme of ethnicity either, but I’m sure it has a great deal to
do with the material expression of either of the concepts, status or
ethnicity. The relationship between architecture and ethnicity may be even
more tenuous than that between architecture and status.
covered to one extent or another a wide-ranging series of neighboring
geographic provinces and their late prehistoric cultures. Here, that data
is indicated in the form of regional summaries and biographies. The
regions and cultural areas compared with the Central Valley are 1)
American Bottom, 2) Nashville Basin/Cumberland/Lower Ohio, 3)
Tombigbee-Alabama River Valley, 4) Ozarks and Prairie-Plains, 5) Arkansas
River Valley, 6) Red River Valley, and 7) Lower Mississippi Valley. Some
of these, like the Oneota and Caddoan region are large culture areas with
extensively documented architecture that deserve separate studies of their
own. In these cases I can only point out general trends in architectural
style in contrast to that of the Central Valley. In other cases, such as
the Tombigbee and Arkansas River valleys, smaller geographic units were
selected for the study, because it seemed that these might be considered
boundary areas, where plans, materials, and details might be expected to
change upon crossing the boundaries, along with other cultural materials
such as ceramics. The amount of data available from each of the
surrounding regions I have chosen to look at is variable. In the American
Bottom, literally hundreds of prehistoric houses have been excavated. In
contrast, in the Nashville Basin, even though we think of the stone-box
grave builders as being fairly well documented archaeologically, there
have been few excavations of buildings.
Introduction to Architectural Data
in Mid-South Archaeology
tangible descriptions of excavated prehistoric architecture in and around
the Mid-South come from such sources as the Bureau of American Ethnology
(Thomas 1894) and some of the work done in the Nashville Basin around the
turn of the last century. In most cases the data returned is insufficient
by modern standards, but at least it was recognized and recorded somewhat
systematically. Based on the work of P.W. Norris and other field workers,
Thomas (1894) presents enough information about excavations at such St.
Francis basin sites as Tyronza Station, Miller, and Taylor Shanty to let
us know that these were groups of Mississippian house mounds supporting
rectangular wattle and daub houses. Taking manuscript sources for the
early twentieth century excavations at the Middle Mississippian Obion
site (Garland) and the Woodland through Protohistoric period Oliver site
in the upper Yazoo basin (Peabody 1904, Belmont 1962), it has been
possible to reconstruct mound architecture to some degree of satisfaction,
but these two examples still leave much to be desired in terms of modern
reporting of architectural data. In some cases concerning the BAE
collections and notes, there is considerably more information available in
the original collections than is reported by Thomas (1894). The notes and
artifacts have still not been written up in any more modern format. The
BAE collected a lot of daub and burned clay, among other architectural
materials, and fortunately many of the specimens are still available for
the mid-continent, except for a few locales such as the American Bottom,
complete-settlement excavations are few, and many of the ones available,
such a Jonathan Creek in eastern Kentucky, are of WPA-CCC vintage. There
are several portions of settlements where data have been salvaged by
cultural resource management programs. For the southern Central Valley,
Connaway’s as-yet unreported excavation of the mounded, palisaded Austin
village site in Tunica County is the only example. The northeast
Arkansas-southeast Missouri core of the Central Valley is much more
thoroughly investigated in terms of complete structures as well as
well-documented town plans, such as those of the Moon and Priestly Late
Mississippian towns. The area further north has seen extensive
documentation through the I-270 American Bottom project. However,
throughout the Central Mississippi Valley, most sites, even famous and
supposedly well-known sites have almost no architectural data recorded for
them. What we do know is often based on field contour sketch maps of
mounds, plazas, house mounds, and borrow pits as they were evident before
long-term plowing leveled them. Due to the paucity of comparative data, I
will not consider town planning in depth, and will instead focus on that
basic unit of the built environment, the house. However, as town plan is a
major element of architecture, the topic must be addressed to a certain
extent. Often a rough site plan is the only architectural information
available from an archaeological site. Late prehistoric period settlement
types range from single-house farmsteads and bank-line hamlets to large,
loose groups of house mounds. There are also large and small compact,
gridded villages and mounded ceremonial centers with extensive evidence of
multi-generational adherence to plans and house rebuilding on the same
locations, with or without fills between the floors.
Mississippi Valley sites have been excavated on the scale needed to reveal
plaza poles, palisades, and special buildings, but of those that have, the
Middle Mississippian period (A.D. 1200-1400) Moon site (3PO488), lacked
central features. There were some pits and posts, and a grave, in the
plaza but “no large ‘village’ post (Benn 1998:248).” The site did have
many elements of a planned village: a rectangular plaza, aligned houses, a
rectangular palisade, and a regularly-shaped addition (Benn 1998:248).
Zeebree, excavated by the Arkansas Archeological Survey in the early
1970s, was a smaller village, but it did have a central posthole (Morse
and Morse 1990).
(1999) has noted floors and postmolds in Middle Archaic mounds in
Louisiana. The proposed roughly contemporary Benton winter pit houses have
been identified in the uplands surrounding the Mid-South. These earliest
cases provide the base-line of technology upon which the Mississippian
societies developed their architectural rules. Very little is known of
pre-ceramic domestic or sacred architecture. The early end of the
substantially documented history of architecture in the region lies in the
Marksville through Coles Creek periods, and this evidence comes largely
from Middle Woodland mortuary structures.By the Late Woodland period,
linear post arrays and floors, presumably representing rectangular houses,
are detectable in the Plum Bayou culture in central and east Arkansas (Nassany
1996). In addition to what has been learned at Toltec (Rolingson) and the
Coy Mound (3LN20), the Ink Bayou and Alexander (3CN117) hamlets also
produced evidence of architectural elements (postholes) and woodworking
tools (adzes; Nassaney 1996:24,25). At about the same time, in the Peabody
phase in the Upper Yazoo basin, rectangular, daubed houses that would pass
for Mississippi period houses were being built by the Peabody phase
Like town plans, floors with intact domestic arrangements are rare in the
south Central Valley. Throughout the region, even when wall lines
indicating plan have been preserved, house floors themselves have
generally been plowed away. The complete excavation of a well-preserved
house is a major undertaking, but highly rewarding. Buchner’s (1996:81,82)
field school students excavated a child’s bunk area and a nearby wall-side
pit and associated bodoc bow and corn and persimmon stores in one quadrant
of a house at the West village in Tunica County, Mississippi (22TU520),
providing one of the rare instances when internal details have been
recorded. It was however, an atypical case, being a large house on Stage 1
of Mound A. At about A.D. 800, when transitional Woodland-early
Mississippian components are recognized in the Sunflower basin, northeast
Arkansas was seeing the development of the Big Lake phase, best known from
the Zebree site (Morse and Morse 1980). By A.D. 1000 agricultural
villages were to be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from the
Wilson phase sites, such as Burris, in the Cache and upper White rivers
basins (Jeter 1988) to the Brougham Lake farmsteads in the Eastern
Lowlands (Klinger et al. 1983). Some research in the late 1960s revealed
the ceramic, lithic, and architectural content of early and middle
Mississippian sites, such as the salvage work on the mound and houses at
Hazel (3PO6) (Morse and Smith 1973), the Dumond mound (3AR40) on the Grand
Prairie (Scholtz 1968b), and the Roland site (3AR30) on the lower White
River (Scholtz 1991). To the south and east, a few smaller sites, such as
Buford (22TL501) have provided indications of the extent of the developing
Mississippian culture deep into the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta.
1400, much of the Western Lowland began to be abandoned in favor of
settlement in densely populated, fortified villages along the St. Francis
and Mississippi Rivers (House and McKelway 1982, Morse 1981, Morse and
Morse 1983). Farmsteads seem to disappear in many areas, and, while the
reasons for these population shifts are not clear, they are thought to be
linked to increasing regional population density and increased levels of
organized intergroup warfare. Rivalry over travel routes, hunting
grounds, and high quality agricultural land are also thought to be
associated with these shifts. House and McKelway (1982) have also
suggested that the shift to reliance on permanent field agriculture and
large, long-term villages may have increased the need for a sustainable
protein source such as could only be provided by fish from large oxbow
lakes, the typical setting for the large late towns. One such nucleated
village on Bee Bayou, Dupree (3PH1), in southern Phillips County, was
briefly tested during land leveling in the 1960s (Moselage 1965; McGimey
1965), but it was a long time before professional archeological attention
focused on the Mississippi period in the locality again.
A South Central Mississippi
Valley Architectural Tradition
I begin with
a summary of what is known about late prehistoric architecture in the
southern portion of the Central Mississippi Valley, from about Memphis to
the mouth of the Arkansas. I have excluded the better-known and more
widely reported sites of the Cairo and Eastern Lowlands and the adjacent
bluff sites of west Kentucky and Tennessee. The data emphasized here come
from 21 sites in 11 counties of the south Central Valley. The sites are
located in (in the state of Mississippi) Coahoma (n=5), Tunica (n=3),
Bolivar (n=1), DeSoto (n=1), Sunflower (n=1) and Tallahatchie (n=1)
counties; (in Arkansas) Crittenden (n=3), Phillips (n=2), Arkansas (n=1)
and Lee (n=1) counties; and Shelby County, Tennessee (n=2).
consider several architectural features or elements: plan, foundation,
walling, roofing, and details. By way of introduction to the descriptive
data presented in Tables 1 and 2, a brief normative description of Late
Prehistoric architecture in the south Central Valley follows. Plans are
square or rectangular, almost always of a single room. A few cases of
possible Woodland structures in the form of postmold arcs have been
reported (Klinger et al. 1983), but circular Mississippian structures
appear to be rare. Houses are sometimes but not always placed on
substructural fills covering the remains of previous houses. Floors may be
sunken rectangular basins or level with the surrounding surface. Two
Coahoma County sites have produced the remains of houses with floors
raised on piles. Wall trench and singly set post walls are documented in
combination with the floor and substrate types just mentioned.
The cane lath
used, generally split or quartered, is Arundinaria. It was typically woven
in rectangular plats as mat to receive daub. Daub can be untempered if the
soil is of the proper consistency, but often has grass temper. One case of
wood chip and splinter tempered daub was noted. The favored structural
woods are, as might be expected, deciduous trees forming straight, limber
poles. Species identified as structural elements, coming from 9 of the 21
sites, are hickory (n=15), ash (n=9), cypress (n=5), elm (n=4), oak (n=3),
sweet gum (n=3), catalpa (n=1), and pecan (n=1). These figures should be
used judiciously, as the identification and reporting is variable from
site to site, but it does appear that hickory and ash were the preferred
wall poles. Cypress was in all cases used as internal support piers or, in
the platform houses, central posts. Riven wood is sometimes noted and the
use of grapevine, probably as ties, has also be documented. Samples are
inadequate for comparison with environmental settings. Wherever it is
documented, the thatching material is Andropogon gerardia or big
A number of
other sites have produced only limited architectural information such as
post holes and wall trenches in test units. In Mississippi, Connaway
(1981) has collected much other scattered architectural information in the
course of salvage work resulting from agricultural site destruction, as
have the many Arkansas Archeological Survey archaeologists, but these are
more often tantalizing scraps than clear and fully developed plans. As
another instance, House’s (1991) excavations at Kent (3LE8) cut into a
mound apron or midden ridge, a compact series of floors cut by a confusing
array of posts and wall trenches. The vertical profile does show a small
(25 cm) silt wedge or bank against the outside of one wall (House
1991:145, 147). We spent considerable time pondering it at the time, but I
have since encountered others and found that Dick Marshall, for one,
called them “wall stubs.” This exterior wall feature appears to seal water
along the base of the wall, and to serve as a seat for the wall daub.
collected little information about details such as openings. Buchner
(1996, Dye and Buchner 1988) found a door in the center of a wall in an
apparent Protohistoric house on West Mounds A. Open corner wall trenches
do not necessarily imply the use of corners as doors. Buchner interpreted
the structure he excavated on Mound B as a undaubed, thatch charnel
house/temple and that on Mound A as an elite residence. This house,
probably 11 x 11 m, has an entrance amid the south wall, made of riven
planks set in the ground 70 cm apart, reinforced by sets of 20 cm diameter
posts. At 121 m2, this mound-top structure is smaller than those at
Natchez Grand Village (184-232 m2), Lake George (204 m2), or Chucalissa
(232 m2; Buchner 1996:81). The excavations also showed a partition and
several ceramics-using activity areas, and three dates, two on thatch,
indicate protohistoric Mississippian (1600-1700) occupation. If the dates
are good, this must be one of the last large, chiefly, mound-top wall
trench houses. The Protohistoric house at the Humber site (Tesar 1975) had
an extended entry in the middle of a wall.
number of Late Woodland components (Peabody phase and Plum Bayou culture)
are known, but few have been excavated. Many of the traits commonly found
in operational definitions of “Mississippian” began in the Coles Creek
period cultures of the Lower and Central Valleys; Coahoma County sites ca.
A.D. 750-1000 have many of these characteristics, such as rectangular
wall-trench houses and platform mounds (Connaway 1981:32-35). Coahoma
County provides much of the evidence for the transition to Mississippian
culture in the southern Central Valley. A 10th century date from a large
bell-shaped storage pit lined with grog-tempered sherds at the Barner
village site (22CO542) may place the transition from Baytown with Plum
Bayou characteristics to Mississippian (Connaway 1981:82). The site had a
15 by 16 foot wall trench house surrounded by pits backfilled with matrix
containing Woodland ceramics; a small amount of shell tempered pottery;
and a small, plowed-down mound where human bone and flat disc shell beads
have been observed (John Connaway, personal communication 1997, Sam
Brookes 19--). A date of A.D. 875+85 (UGa-280) from a pit at Barner
(22CO542), a village site on Big Creek tested by Sam Brookes, appears to
place the transition from Woodland to emergent Mississippian in the county
(Connaway 1981:82, Connaway and Sims 1997:103). The site also had a 15 by
16 foot wall trench house surrounded by pits, most or all attributable to
the Woodland period. Barner does have a small amount of shell tempered
pottery and a small, plowed-down mound where human bone and flat disc
shell beads have been observed (John Connaway, personal communication
1997). The white Missouri chert mentioned as an Early Mississippi period
diagnostic is generally believed to have been used for drilling shell
beads, particularly around Cahokia, where it originates (Morse and Morse
limited salvage at the Bobo Site (22CO535) resulted in the recording of
four house patterns out of 80-100 uncovered at this large village site
with an 8 foot high mound (Connaway 1981:36-40). Bobo was a 6-8 acre
Coles Creek and Mississippi period midden on the Sunflower River.
Overlapping and rebuilding of structures were noted, along with internal
features (roof support and bench/bed posts, hearths, storage/refuse pits,
and graves). Structures measured from 15 to 32 foot on a side. The
larger, seemingly contemporary, structures were oriented north-south.
Rows of thatched, wattle-and-daub, wall-trench houses around a plaza west
of the mound were indicated, but not documented. Artifacts recovered
included Mississippi Plain, Winterville Incised, and an oval-shaped (Mill
Creek?) chert hoe. Two dates, here shown uncalibrated, were run from the
site: A.D. 890+90 (UGa-560) on a large, deep house post under the mound
and A.D. 1275+100 (UGa-559) on corn from a pit outside overlapping
structures (see Connaway and Sims 1997:103 for calibrated results).
Occupation for several centuries of the late Coles Creek and early
Mississippi periods is indicated.
In what is
probably the most important CRM work to have import for Mississippian
archeology in Coahoma County, Panamerican Consultants, Inc., has recently
conducted excavations at the McKnight village site (22CO560) adjacent to
Barbee Cemetery Mound (22CO510), a presumed Woodland period (Peabody and
Coahoma phase) conical mound along Highway 61. Two wall trench structures
and associated Mississippian pit features were encountered along with a
Mississippian assemblage including thin, plain, coarse shell tempered
ceramics similar to Powell Plain and Mississippi Plain, var. Coker. One
of the houses was oriented with the sides to the cardinal directions and
the other with the corners to these points. Both were about 7 meters on a
side and roughly square, however, one dated to the Early Mississippi and
the other several centuries later in the Late Mississippi period. There
was a small pit in the corner of one house and a large bell-shaped pit
near the same structure. The Powell Plain-like medium jar fragment from
this exterior pit had the thin body, high shoulder, and everted rim
typical of the northern areas where “true” Mississippian culture began. A
small, flaring bit Mill Creek hoe was also recovered from the surface
(Walling and Chapman1998).
hamlets around vacant ceremonial centers are often thought of as typical
of the first centuries of the Mississippi period throughout the Central
Valley. Another cluster of five wall-trench houses and associated graves
at Bonds produced transitional Woodland and Mississippian ceramics and
12th century dates (Sam Brookes…). At Rock Levee, a bell-shaped pit near
a square wall trench house contained corn which produced an early assay
(Weinstein et al. 1995). In what is probably the most important CRM work
conducted in Coahoma County, excavations along the Highway 61 right-of-way
at the McKnight village site (22CO560) uncovered other small early
Mississippian components. Two farmsteads, widely separated in time, were
placed near a conical mound. One wall trench house with a small corner
hearth had a bell-shaped storage pit, containing a few Powell Plain-like
rims, about 2 m from the south corner; this pit returned a date in the
13th century. In an interesting contrast to the presumed pattern of
farmsteads being early, the other structure appears to date in the 15th
century (Walling and Chapman 1998). A Mill Creek hoe, also quite common
on the early sites, was recovered at McKnight.
one wattle-and-daub house at a linear hamlet on low-lying clayey ground
dated to the mid 1300s, perhaps as part of a wider community centered on
Mound City, which is apparently an early “vacant” ceremonial center
(Childress et al. 1995). In Lee County, Arkansas, a house, one of a long
string along North Alligator Bayou, produced a similar Middle
Mississippian date (AAS 199-). These Alligator Bayou farmsteads were
probably part of the community using the Mound Cemetery vacant ceremonial
center, where mound use ended around 1400 (John House personal
contrast to the small sites called hamlets and farmsteads are some larger
early villages. Analysis is underway on the salvaged Austin site
(22TU--), which had a small mound with graves, rows of wall trench houses
frequently rebuilt on the same locations, two palisades with bastions and
loop entryway, and material culture transitional between the Woodland and
Mississippian modes (John Connaway, personal communication 1997). In
addition, salvage at the Bobo Site (22CO535) resulted in the recording of
four house patterns out of 75 to 100 uncovered during the destruction of
this 6-8 acre Coles Creek and Mississippi period village midden and 8’
high mound on the Sunflower River (Connaway 1981:36-40). Thatched,
wattle-and-daub, wall-trench houses in north-south rows around a plaza
west of the mound could not be recorded, but overlapping and rebuilding of
15-30’ square structures were noted, along with internal features such as
roof support and bench/bed posts, hearths, storage/refuse pits, and
graves. Artifacts recovered included Mississippi Plain, Winterville
Incised, and a Mill Creek hoe. Occupation for several centuries of the
late Coles Creek and Early and Middle Mississippi periods is indicated.
Wall trenches under the mound returned a 10th century date.
County Late Mississippian sites have a type of structure that is unique in
the archaeological record of our area, in that they were built on piles.
Such buildings are, however, described in Garcilaso “The Inca” de la
Vega’s ca. 1580 oral history of the De Soto entrada’s spring flood
adventures in Aminoya, perhaps in the lower White/Arkansas river basin.
French reports of the Mississippi Valley also appear to describe such
structures. Baird (1980:11) mentions that around 1700, the Quapaw built
platforms 15 to 20 feet high to sleep on in summer, to escape the
mosquitoes and to gain some breeze. Wilsford (22CO516), between the large
14th and 15th century Salomon and 15th and 16th century Parchman mound
groups, had a small rectangular mound, other daub-covered rises, but very
sparse surface material. The Wilsford pile structures show evidence of
rebuilding in the same location. They have wall trenches, and, in the
area they enclose, a closely-spaced grid of support posts. Each structure
had a deep, ramped pit for a large centerpost, and probably, a surrounding
porch or balcony and entryway/ladder. A Nodena Red and White bottle and
an Addis Plain (a southern analog of Bell Plain, generally with little or
no shell) carinated flaring-rim bowl were recovered from one centerpost
pit. The later dates are on smaller posts, and probably are fairly close
to the construction date, while the earlier centerpost date can be
accounted for by the large size of this timber. The main occupation date
for the site appears to be around A.D. 1425 (Connaway 1985).
elevated structure at the Hays farmstead site (22CO612) produced a date in
the 1600s on the centerpost (Connaway 1981:84). The one-acre site had
only been disked once when it was excavated by the MDAH in 1969. Like
other single-family sites, Hays had a concentration of debitage and
unfinished pebble-core triangular points adjacent to a daub scatter. The
structures uncovered had been rebuilt at least two times on the same
spot. One construction appeared to be a standard wall trench building
with internal posts indicative of beds around the walls. The other
construction had singly set wall posts and a rough grid of interior posts,
a ramped center post placement pit, and a set of short, close-spaced wall
trenches perpendicular the southeast wall, probably part of the stair or
ladder. This latter feature was also noted at Wilsford. The five foot
deep, tapering center pit had daub with grapevine impressions, split and
woven cane impressions, grass temper, and smoothed surfaces. It also
contained cypress charcoal, corn, and persimmon seeds. Pecan and white
oak were also apparently used in the buildings (ms notes MDAH).
Ellis, on the
Mississippi River in Phillips County, and Powell Bayou, in the Sunflower
River meander belt in Sunflower County were typical small mound groups.
Both had some salvage work done after the villages had been largely
disturbed and the main mounds were half removed. A series of dates from
each indicates 14th and 15th century construction. Powell Bayou (22SU5--)
is a minor ceremonial center and village lying between a dry bayou and an
open cypress lake, well away from the main area of high ground along the
Sunflower River, on some of the only land in its township to be
considered of any value by the GLO surveyor (Starr 1991). To the east
lies the Quiver River backswamp. Soon after the 1969 excavations, a
radiocarbon sample from “a post” on the mound remnant top was submitted,
and in 1989 two additional samples were processed (Starr 1996).
Construction probably began in the late 14th century and at least two
stages had been erected by the early 15th century. The end of the
Mississippian developmental cycle at Powell Bayou was lost to the dirt
buggy, but it should be noted that the 15th century village succeeded
insofar as they added at least one but probably several more stages to
their mound and at some point had a population of more than a dozen
houses, based on the extent of daub and pottery scatter. Slight social
differentiation of the mound inhabitants from their undoubted kin and
allies living physically and figuratively below them is one of the more
interesting aspects of social organization that can be inferred from the
Powell Bayou excavations. The apparent contemporaneity, side-by-side, on
the mound of typical-to-middling sized domestic or residential and much
larger, presumably communal architecture is also indicative of this
ambiguity. There is evidence for the storage and processing of large
quantities of food on the mound in bathtub-size pits, but much of what was
found in these pits was gathered or orchard produce (white oak acorns and
persimmons) rather than grain from field agriculture (corn).
is a mound group lying in and along the Corps of Engineers levee between
Old Town Lake and the end of Crowleys Ridge. A 15th century ceramic
complex has been defined from the site based on 1990 excavations and
radiocarbon dates (Childress et al. 1995). Two Dover chert artifacts from
Ellis, a definite hoe flake with earth-polish and heavy use on the lateral
flake margins and a second flake with retouch/utilization but no earth
polish, were some of the very few lithics recovered from Ellis. These
large imported tools were no doubt instrumental in intensive farming
involving hilling and in earthwork construction. They must have also been
used to dig wall trenches. While mid-1300s pre-mound construction at Ellis
included wall trenches, the early 1400s Stage III/IV structure at Ellis
appears to have individual post holes, and such singly-set post structures
have been documented at Parchman, Hushpuckena, and Winterville phase sites
as well by around 1500. By historic times, they were also used by the
Natchez (Brown 1990:230). The protohistoric Dupree house (3PH1; Moselage
1965, McGimsey 1965) was of single post construction, as was the one
excavated by Ford (1961:154) at Menard (3AR4) and that excavated by Tesar
(1975) at Humber (22CO601), two protohistoric/early historic sites. These
last three sites, based on their ceramics, are later than Ellis and
probably were occupied by a different, perhaps actual Quapaw, ethnic
group. It seems likely that wall trenches were not so practical when
hoes, or as they might better be called, mattocks, were no longer
available, so that people returned to digging all foundation elements with
dibble bars or other wooden tools. Identification of a terminal date for
the importation of Dover and Mill Creek hoes is a critical chronological
and economic problem.
trench at the base of the Ellis mound seems to date to the mid-1300s.
Dates for Stages II and III are ambiguous, but a range near the end of the
fourteenth century seems reasonable. There are three dates from the Stage
III/IV interface associated with the construction of semisubterranean,
individually set post houses ca. 1400. The initial accumulation of burned
structure rubble on Stage IV has a calibrated intercept at 1431. The
second continuous rubble zone, on the Stage V summit, is calibrated to
1478. Daub fragments in the uppermost disturbed mantle indicate that the
mound supported at least one additional occupation after the application
of Stage VI fill, suggesting that the mound was in use until at least
1500. The two sigma ranges for calibrated calendar years allows a span of
350 years to be postulated for construction of the earthwork. Most likely
the mound was built in episodes over only 150 to 200 years between 1300
and 1500, with stages added at intervals of 50 years or less.
A’s upper 20 cm contained many small brick and daub fragments but, all
traces of the final aboriginal occupation were probably obliterated by
the twentieth century occupants. At 90 centimeters below the present
surface in the east end of Trench A, the first intact daub and charcoal
lens was encountered. This burned rubble was 10 to 20 cm thick,
representing the remains of a collapsed structure that sat atop the Stage
V living surface. This material and the fill directly under the rubble
were excavated separately to obtain a separate sample of the Stage V
material culture. Excavation of the Stage V mound fill continued to 40 cm
below the burned rubble (120 cmbs) before the trench was stepped to the
west. A 10 to 12 cm diameter charred post was identified under the Stage
V rubble. Excavation of the post halted upon encountering ash, daub, and
charcoal of the next lower mound stage. The total thickness of Stage V
was 60 cm.
At 130 cmbs,
a horizontal, 5 cm thick, charcoal lens was noted and sampled; this
probably corresponds to the second “floor” noted in Trench C, described
below. About 30-35 cm below this charcoal, beginning at 175 cmbs, was a
third layer of structural remains (Feature 4) consisting of daub overlying
cane in a shallow baked depression (Figure 5). The cane was consistently
oriented in the same direction and followed the eastward slope of the
baked depression. A flat rock was found on the baked surface, and by 180
cmbs the depression was found to have a distinct outline indicating the
corner of a sunken floor structure. Most of the structure appeared to be
intact, extending to the east into the mound remnant. At 190 cmbs, two
postholes were encountered at the edge of the depressed floor. One
yielded a carbon sample. Feature 4 seemed to overlie a second basin
filled with light yellowish brown basket loads intruding a fill zone of
very dark grayish-brown soil mixed with small daub fragments. I interpret
this as indicating that there were two consecutive structures atop Stage
IV without the addition of mound fill, although, alternately, Stage IV may
have been a very thin mound fill, as a second group of three postholes
began at a level slightly below the base of Feature 4. Interpretation of
the structure(s) atop Stage IV as having semisubterranean floors is also
supported by the north wall profile, which shows daub rubble lying on a
sloping surface. The surface bearing the rubble rises from the west to a
crest at the presumed wall line and then descends into a depression which
slopes to the east. The second mentioned basin seemed to be in the same
location and orientation as the first. The mound surface at the time of
the initial basin’s burning lay at about 180-190 cm below the present
mound surface. The final burned structure encountered in Trench A was a
bright orange baked surface overlain by a thin white ash and charcoal lens
at 210 cmbs. This corresponds approximately with the top level of the
modern asphalt pavement. Little of the Stage II fill was excavated below
this level, but postholes from the Stage II occupation beginning at
200-205 cmbs were recorded (Figure 6).
B lay 4 m north of Trench A. The existing exposed mound fill was cut back
to the first burned clay floor. Subsequently the trench was stepped
westward and down, following the burned material as each intact
construction stage was encountered (Figures 7 and 8). About half of the
volume of Trench B was disturbed slump from the last three or four
construction stages. Artifacts, carbon, and floatation samples were
collected from three baked occupation levels. Each had a
daub/charcoal/ash sequence indicative of rapid covering with soil after
the burning structure collapsed. The charcoal is mostly cane, although
wood was also noted. These thin lenses of burned debris lay on compact,
baked surfaces believed to be the floors or, perhaps, heavily trafficked
immediate exterior eaves or yards of structures. They correspond well in
depth to the portions of the Stage III/IV structures encountered in Trench
County mound groups with dense, compact village deposits similar to those
of St. Francis-type towns to the north, in the eastern part of the area
Phillips assigned to the Kent phase, date 1600-1700. The very late dates
from West (22TU520; Dye and Buchner 1988, Buchner 1996), from a moundtop
structure with plank door jamb, are commensurate with the ceramics from
this very large wall-trench structure. Hollywood (22TU500, Stallings19--,
Ross-Stalling19--) and the adjacent presumably affiliated Flowers #3
village and cemetery similarly date to the 15th through 17th centuries.
The late component of Hollywood also produces Nodena lanceolate arrow
points and bundle burials.
that one of the basic formats of Mississippian architecture, the wall
trench house, disappears late in the sequence, presumably as part of the
formation of the vacant quarter, which includes the hoe quarries. House’s
(1991) test trenches at the Protohistoric Clay Hill (3LE11) site seem to
support the contention. Otherwise, the Clay Hill daub and floors indicate
considerable continuity in the general tradition. Perhaps only the seating
of the posts was changed. Two early contact period sites in Coahoma County
in the Yazoo Basin have architectural data supporting this contention as
well. Both sites date to the period before ca. 1700, when prolonged
contact with the French and British was initiated. The first to be
discussed is the Humber site, where Tesar (1975) excavated a square,
set-post house with extended entry way. Humber produced large amounts of
the polychrome and effigy pottery and other elements of the
popularly-defined “Quapaw” ceramic complex, including Bell Plain teapots
and red and white bottles. A small area with a meter deep midden was
tested (Tesar 1975). The site was evidently occupied intensively over an
extended period, as there are many examples of overlapping sequential
buildings. A 5 meter square rectangular structure made with individually
set posts, packed gumbo floor, grass tempered daub, and large
southeast-facing entrance was recorded. It perhaps sat on a house mound.
Parts of 3-to-4 m diameter arcs of postholes were also noted, along with
fire pits and dumps containing corn, beans, persimmon, deer, and fish
remains. The Humber village consisted of many houses and, apparently,
some platform mounds lying along a mile and a half of high, sandy natural
levee near the Mississippi River. The extent and linear nature of the site
seem to preclude its having been fortified. The house plan documented at
Humber is unlike any other known from the Central Valley, given its
extended entry. The style of the ceramics associated with the many bundle
burials dug through this house’s floor places the Humber site in the very
late 1500s or early 1600s.
The second to
be discussed is the Oliver site, excavated by Charles Peabody (1904) in
1901-1902. Belmont (1962) reconstructed the architecture present on each
Oliver mound stage from the Peabody notes. The final late Mississippian
and Protohistoric structures were apparently made of posts; Peabody’s
notes mentioned no trenches and only posts.
Northeast Arkansas-Southeast Missouri,
The Central Valley’s Mississippian Core
(1987:164) describes a granary from the Little River Lowland of southeast
Missouri. This 1.5 x 2 m structure had a slightly depressed floor. Food
stores were arrayed along either side of a central aisle. One side had
bags of shelled corn in twined bags and acorn meat and sunflower seed laid
up in cane mat or basket-lined bins; the other side had additional shelled
corn and corn laid up on the cob. This feature type is almost unrecorded
elsewhere in the Central Valley.
Northern Central Mississippi River Valley
(American Bottom) Architecture
of architectural styles, like seemingly every other aspect of prehistoric
material culture, is very well documented for the Cahokia region (American
Bottom) because of the I-270 project, which resulted in the excavation of
many villages of all types, sizes, and time periods. The architectural
tradition in evidence in the American Bottom ca. AD 500-1400 is remarkably
similar to what is known about the southern end of the Central Valley. Set
post and semisubterranean rectangular houses date to the Late Woodland in
the American Bottom, and wall trenches were constructed only after the
introduction of Mill Creek hoes. Village plans had also attained the
regularity provided by central open areas with public buildings, poles, or
special pit clusters during the Late Woodland period. There are cases of
Mississippian town plans when it appears that the plaza was laid out prior
to beginning construction of a town or mounds. The placement of a pole
from which the rest of the site plan could be measured out could be one of
the first formal acts in the creation of a settlement. Stout and Lewis
(1998:151) believe that the plaza is the central element in Mississippian
town planning as well as a physical symbol of the “center of the world,”
and as such, a vertical post would serve as a marker of this central
point. Posts are often implicated in attempts to find alignments of
village features, particularly mounds, with astronomical and solar events
such as the equinoxes and solstices (see Sherrod and Rolingson 1987).
These large central posts appeared at least 1000 years ago and were very
widespread in the area of Mississippian cultures. They are evidently an
important element in these sites’ public spaces and are probably much more
common than we have recognized—simply because, unless a full village plan
is being exposed, archaeologists seldom choose to excavate plazas, which
are, after all, by definition empty spaces. The American Bottom around
Cahokia has a detailed history of posts in the centers of plazas and
“courtyards” (courtyard refers to a space surrounded by a group of houses
rather than mounds as around a plaza; a courtyard is larger than a “patio”
in a single domestic building group) as many town and village sites have
been excavated (Kelley 1990 a, b; Pauketat 1994; Mehrer and Collins 1995;
Demel and Hall 1998).
Jackson (1987:172) describe Late Woodland architecture for the Rosewood,
Mund, and Patrick phases. They attribute the complexity witnessed in the
American Bottom Late Woodland to “coalesence within the American Bottom
Woodland tradition under outside influences (Emerson and Jackson
1987:176)”. The Rosewood phase (AD 300-450) had large single post
rectangular and oval houses. The Mund phase saw a shift in emphasis from
floodplain locations to blufftop settlements. The increasing agricultural
Patrick phases houses were substantial semisubteranean, rectangular
“keyhole” structures, made with individually set wall posts and a long
ramped entry. Buildings with small set posts and no ramp and large,
square, set post buildings are also recorded for the latest Woodland phase
(Emerson and Jackson 1987:176). In the southern American Bottom, Dohack
phase settlements consisted of small, square to rectangular, set post
houses with pit clusters. By AD 600, large, organized settlements had been
formed. The fully sedentary and horticultural Range site had 22 small,
rectangular, set post structures arrayed around a “courtyard” with central
pole and by the George Reeves phase, the settlement consisted of more than
100 houses clustered around several small courtyards, with overlap showing
long-term occupation (Emerson and Jackson 1987:176, 179).
chert hoes began to be used in the northern American Bottom during the
Loyd phase (AD 800-900), and during this time small square or rectangular
set post houses were built in basins. They were introduced in the southern
American Bottom during the Lindeman phase, along with
southeast-Missouri-style shell tempered pottery (Emerson and Jackson
1987:179, 187). All emergent Mississippian houses had individually set
pots along basin edges. Both set posts and wall trenches were used in the
Lohman phase and by the Strilring phase wall trenches were used
exclusively. Milner (1984:196) notes that structure floor area increased
by three times from the emergent Mississippian Merrell phase to the
terminal Mississippian Sand Prairie phase (or from AD 900 to 1400.) By the
emergent Mississippian, most American Bottom communities consisted of
houses grouped around an open area containing central posts, pits, or
large structures. Other special use structures include sweat lodges and
granaries (Milner 1987:198). The Edelhart phase village at the BBB Motors
site was linear, without a plaza, following the bank of a slough. The 16
rectangular, set post, shallow basin houses varied in size from 5 to 14
square meters (enclosed floors of 3.4 to 10.9 square meters; Emerson and
Jackson 1987:180). Basins were about 30 cm deep, and posts were generally
about 10 cm in diameter and 20 cm deep. Twelve of the houses had internal
features such as storage pits, large posts, and, rarely, shallow hearths.
In contrast, the Merrell tract at Cahokia showed contemporary structures
of the same small size but of more permanent constrction than the presumed
arbor-like buildings at BBB. Basins were 63-89 cm deep, with posts 40 cm
or more in depth. The site appears to have three clusters of buildings,
with a redundant complex of buildings in each. Each has 3 or 4 with
internal pits and floor areas greater than 11 square meters, a structure
of 5 or 6 square meters and no features, and up to two 8-9 square meter
buildings with internal features. These suggest that extended family
households had both residential and storage buildings (Emerson and Jackson
1987:186). During the early Mississippian, the diversified settlement
pattern included widely dispersed farmsteads, densely occupied mound
centers, and nonmound villages (Milner 1987:198).
Cahokia, in the Missouri River bluffs at St. Louis, The Thornhill site
(23SL220) has returned dates indicative of occupation ca. AD 800. A large
(6.75 x 4.85 m) rectangular wall trench building had been constructed in a
shallow basin. it had a fired clay floor, hearth, and two pits, one small,
and one large and bell shaped, still containing grass lining. The floor
also showed impressions of mats made of weft-twined two-ply, fiber such as
grass or reed. One raised area of floor may have been a bench or work
area. A pile of geodes, quartz pebbles, galena, and other pebbles was
found in one corner, and tools such as grindstones and battered cores were
found on the floor. Large stores of corn in the ear may have been in the
rafters; this corn was mostly MidWestern 12-row, with some Eastern
8-and-10-row. The structure may have been daubed, as some burned clay was
recovered. The site produced several Mill Creek hoes and a Mill Creek
spade blank (Neathery 1987:169).
Cumberland/Lower Ohio River Valley Architecture
Mississippian cultural sequence of the Nashville Basin or Tennessee
Bluegrass appears to be truncated by the “Vacant Quarter” phenomenon
around 1450, as is that of the northern Central Valley. The Middle
Cumberland Mississippian variant is considered one of the nuclear areas of
earlier Mississippian developments, and the ceramics and other aspects of
material culture, including the architecture, are highly similar to the
Central Valley Mississippian variant.
Tombigbee/Alabama River Valley Architecture
Moundville tradition sites (speaking widely to encompass the Tombigbee
Valley, southern Tennessee Valley, and Mobile Bay-Gulf Coastal area)
appear in many aspects of architecture to resemble the Central Valley
Mississippian tradition, with rectangular plans and wall-trench,
wattle-and-daub houses. This broad and basic similarity across the
Mississippian world is particularly interesting given the likelihood that
the Central Valley cultures, from Cahokia to the Mid-South, represent
Siouan speakers, and archaeological cultures of the Alabama and Tombigbee
Rivers and the Gulf Coast represent the Western Muskoghean speakers.
sites have one aspect of architecture not documented for the Central
Valley: the paired summer and winter house, or open-walled rectangular
ramada or arbor and the circular, daubed, timber walled hothouse. Historic
Choctaw and Chickasaw sites tend to be shallow. These are both settlement
patterns of the uplands of Mississippi that consist of scattered houses
making up sometimes large villages. Few archaeological traces have been
recovered of historic Chickasaw, Choctaw or related architecture in
Middle Arkansas River Valley
architectural style of late prehistoric southwest Missouri, northeast
Oklahoma, and northwest Arkansas emphasizes rectangular structures with
wall posts set in individual postholes, generally with central surface
hearths and two, four, or more larger central roof support posts. The post
spacing generally indicates that mat or bark was the probable covering.
These archaeological patterns appear to be commensurate with the
longhouses of ethnographic references.
notes that southeastern Oklahoma saw brief WPA survey work prior to the
outbreak of WWII. Two important Middle Arkansas River basin, Ouachita
Mountain sites were excavated, Clement and McDonald. The Fulton aspect
Clement site had three platform mounds, midden, cemetery, and associated
village area. The largest mound, of two stages, had been built over a 25’
square house with a 4-square arrangement of large internal support posts.
This house in turn overlapped a 17.4’ x 18.7’ house with two roof
supports. Both had south/southwest entries made with trenches. Other
square and rectangular houses were encountered in the village area (Wilson
1962:104). The McDonald site was considered to date slightly later. Here,
a circular set-post structure 18’ in diameter was excavated. It had an 11’
long wall trench entry with pairs of postholes at either end. The entry
was on the north.
(1957) reported the WPA excavation at the Sam village site (Lf-28, Leflore
County, Oklahoma), located on Fourche Maline Creek near its confluence
with the Poteau River. Three possible houses were noted, one only by 4
large (12-18” diameter, 19-22” deep) posts in a square oriented with the
cardinal directions, presumed to be the central support posts of a house
whose walls were lost (Proctor 1957:55). The possibility that they are the
pillars of a granary is not entertained. The second potential structure
was a group of 6” diameter posts in a 14’ x 17’ rough rectangle, with some
interior posts. All posts were detected at the subsoil and no artifacts
were associated with the post patterns. Pottery types were Woodward (67%)
and Williams (13%) Plain, and in addition to conch, copper, quartz, and
arrows and darts; axes, adzes, celts, and other ground stone were
recovered. The excavator interpreted the site as having segregated house,
cache pit, and cemetery areas, although the site had seen either extended
or repeated occupation, as there was much unintelligible overlap of
structures (Proctor 1957:46).
Sam house was not excavated far enough beyond the walls to have detected
an extended entry. The house stood on a small rise and was marked by a
“wattle” concentration (burned clay) found to lie on the house floor. The
21’ x 14’ rectangular structure had 2 symmetrically placed large (18”
diameter) support posts along its long north-south axis. There were
numerous other internal posts, 6-10” in diameter. It is possible that some
of these are additional posts for a 4-square plan and that the east wall
was not uncovered; the overall structure dimensions given are rather
uncertain, the house may have been 21’ square (Proctor 1957:55). There was
a potentially-associated 3’ diameter cache pit to the north of the
northern central support post, between it and the wall. The structure was
not dated, although the site’s main component is Fourche Maline.
Davis site (Mc-6) is a Fulton component in McCurtain County, Oklahoma. It
had been badly looted in the 1930s prior to the 1955 University of
Oklahoma excavations (Wilson 1962:107). The excavations were troweled and
dry screened in 6” levels (Wilson 1962:107). The Fulton aspect is
characterized by Wilson (1962:105) as having few “temple” mounds and the
reuse of the platforms of earlier people, extended inhumations with
frequent grave goods, sandstone hones, stemmed arrows, end scrapers,
scapulae hoes, and many other bone artifacts. The Fulton aspect was
believed to be Protohistoric, prior to the ca. 1700 French and Spanish
trade, and to represent small village agriculturalists, leaning heavily on
hunting/gathering/fishing, and dispersed about the Caddo area, as the
neighboring Mid-Ouchita Bossier focus. They were perhaps the ancestral
Wichita nation, who lived in conical grass houses (Wilson 1962;109, 123).
Davis house was round, 18’ in diameter, with a second ring 6’ outside the
first (30’ diameter), interpreted as rebuilding or repair. The posts of
the outer ring were smaller, and sometimes doubled, and spaced about 2’
apart. The inner ring posts were about a foot in diameter and sometimes
wider spaced. Two posts were identified as pine. There were no entryway,
floor, fireplace, or pits reported (Wilson 1862:109).There was
considerable burned chink (“wattle”) with grass and reed impressions; it
was interpreted as being packed between upright timbers. No floor or
firepits were defined. A single posthole was located at the center of the
concentric rings of posts (Wilson 1962:Plate 39).
There were 5
extended inhumation graves south of the house. One had 13 Talco arrows,
probably a quiver. The site produced primarily shell-tempered pottery,
particularly Keno Trailed-Incised. Tools included scrapers, cores, manos,
hammers, hoes, celts and hematite. The environment is riverine, lying in
the bottomland of Glover River, with cane, pecan, and cottonwood, as well
as hardwoods and pine nearby (Wilson 1962:107).
reported on WPA excavations at the Brackett site (Ck-43) in northeast
Oklahoma’s Illinois River Valley’s Barren Fork Creek (Tenkiller Reservoir,
Cherokee County), where 8 houses were excavated at a mound and village
site in rugged, wooded blufflands of the middle Arkansas River Valley
Ozark Mountains. The site lay on a high bank on Barren Fork, a
quarter-mile from its confluence with Illinois River. No graves were
associated with these houses and artifact recovery was spotty. However, an
adjacent cemetery area with 17 graves and 27 individuals was excavated.
Ceramics indicate contemporaneity with the houses. Grave furnishings
relevant to the study of architecture include included knives, a
double-bit ax, a perforated mussel shell hoe, a metate and manos (Bareis
1955:7). The perhaps earlier Gary dart was the commonest projectile point
type found, followed by Ellis, but Alba and other arrows were abundant as
well. The site’s mound is interpreted as a three-stage substructure,
although no postholes were reported (Bareis 1955:13). This late
prehistoric site was assigned to the later Gibson aspect. Then-defined
Gibson aspect traits included burial and flat-topped mounds, extended
burials, clay/sand and bone tempered elaborate as well as simple domestic
ceramics and barbed and side-notched arrows. Exotic materials include
reposee copper and copper beads, spatulate celts, pearls, quartz crystals,
stone and ceramic pipes, conch dippers and engraved shell.
All of the
Brackett site houses were square to rectangular with one to four center
posts, prepared clay floors, and post or wall trench entryways. House 1
was 22’ square with a 6’9” long, 3’ wide single post entry in the middle
of the east wall. Wall posts were about 6” in diameter, 6” apart, and 1’
deep, as were the 14 posts making up either side of the extended entry.
The center posts were larger, as is typical, about 1.6’ in diameter and 3’
deep. Some 13 interior posts were identified parallel to the walls; these
were smaller, about 4” in diameter and 11” deep. Portions of prepared
floor were noted, including clay at the entry, but no fireplace was
identified. Charcoal was noted, along with burned clay bearing stick
wattle imprints. House 2 was rectangular, measuring 28’ north-south and
24’ east-west. The interior support posts, however, formed a square and
were 1’3” to 2” deep. There were 24 interior posts interpreted as
strengthening or reinforcing the wall. No entry was identified, but a clay
floor and 2’10” diameter central circular fire pit were (Bareis 1955:4).
House 3 was also rectangular, but more pronouncedly so, measuring 22’6”
north-south and 15’6” east west. It had a single central post 1’3” in
diameter and 1’ deep; only 3 un-patterned secondary posts; and a 7’long,
6” deep wall trench entry in the middle of the east wall. Charcoal,
wattle, and burned clay were recovered from the prepared clay floor. A
metate was recovered from the southwest corner (Bareis 1955:5). House 4
was 28’6” square with 4 central posts and a trench entry in the middle of
the east wall. The interior posts were 1’4” in diameter and 2” deep. They
were set in a square. There was only 1 other interior post.
House 5 was
superimposed diagonally with House 6 (Bareis 1955:5). House 5 was 28’
square with 4 center posts and post entry in the middle of the east wall.
The main support posts were 1’6” in diameter and 2’ deep. There were 4
other similar large posts, suggested to be additional roof supports, in
addition to 4 other interior posts near the walls. The entry had 3 posts
on one side and 4 on the other. Charcoal, bifaces, deer bones and teeth, a
bird nest, and other burned plants seemed to be in association. House 6
was roughly square (26-28’ on the side) with a trench entry in the middle
of the east side. The wall posts were 6” to a 1’ deep. Four central posts
in a square were 1’3” in diameter and 2’2” deep. There were 7 posts in one
entry trench and 6 in the other. Hickory Fine Engraved, Williams
(clay-tempered) and Woodward (shell-tempered) sherds were recovered in
association, along with some bone-tempered and some sand-tempered sherds
and charcoal and “wattle” (Bareis 1955:6).
House 7 was 24’ square, with 4 central support posts in a square and a
trench entry in the middle of the east wall. The central posts were
around 1’8” in diameter and 2’10” deep. There were 6 secondary posts along
the west side. Similar ceramics were recovered, along with a number of
stone tools (ax, celt, mano, bifaces), and charcoal with wattle. House 8
was 16’ square, with central posts 1’6” in diameter and a 5’-long trench
entry in the middle of the east wall (Bareis 1955:6).
methods used in the 1930s to record these structures were rudimentary, the
Gibson aspect Brackett site presents well-defined architectural rules. The
typical house was 1) 24-28’ square, with 2) 4 roof support posts in a
central square, and 3) an extended entry in the middle of the east wall.
The roof supports were placed in post holes more than a foot in diameter
and often 2’ deep. Smaller secondary posts near walls are interpreted as
reinforcement of walls. Prepared clay floors are also typical, but are not
described in detail. The walling between the 6’ diameter, 6’ apart wall
posts is not stated clearly, but wattle and charcoal are frequently
mentioned, along with some burned clay. By “wattle,” “daub” seems to be
intended, as the wattle is described as having 2.4 cm diameter deep stick
imprints and as being used as “linear material between the posts and
framework (Bareis 1955:4).” In one case cane is mentioned as associated
with the structure. The main deviations from this pattern are 1) somewhat
to markedly rectangular structures, 2) irregular arrangements of fewer or
greater than 4 support posts, and 3) one case where no entry was noted
(probably destroyed, Bareis 1955:33).
Brackett is 4
miles northwest of the Vanderpool site, believed to a pre-Gibson aspect (Bareis
1955:38). Area B of Vanderpool (Ck-32, Cherokee County, Oklahoma) produced
a house pattern similar to those at Brackett. It was slightly rectangular
(17’ north-south and 20’ east west floor area), with a 4-square
arrangement of internal supports and a trench entry in the middle of the
south wall (Harden and Robinson 1975). This site lies along the southern
edge of the Ozark uplift on rolling limestones of the Boone formation at
the transition from the deciduous woodlands to the Prairie Plains. This
area still provides the favored southeastern building materials (hickory,
oak, grapevine, bluestem grasses; Harden and Robinson 1975:92). As the
work was conducted later (a 1951 field school), the standards of recording
were higher, including screening, and consequently the architectural
information for the structure is somewhat better. The near surroundings of
the structure were exposed, yielding 5 probably associated extramural
features. These were 2 burials in small, circular pits containing
acid-leached skull fragments; 2 other pits along the east and west side
walls; and a rockpile at the back or northwest corner. Burial 3 lay in a
pit along the south (front entry) wall. Burial 2 lay in a pit several
meters from the northeast corner. There were no associated materials. The
5’ diameter concentration of 4-10” fire-cracked rocks was interpreted as
non-contemporaneous, because it was deeper (Harden and Robinson
1975:103). Feature 4, the pit along the east wall near Burial 2 contained
flint, sherds, and charcoal.
Vanderpool Area B house entry is unusual in that it extents into the
interior. It has trenches with larger postholes at each end. No evidence
of a prepared floor was found, but the site appears from photographs to
have been plow- and erosion-truncated (Harden and Robinson 1975:Plate 3).
The wall posts were found to extend 6-10” below the depth of definition.
However, a rectangular burned clay area (but “no evidence of a prepared
hearth;” Harden and Robinson 1975:105) was found 6-8” above the level the
posts were defined (Harden and Robinson 1975:105). The northeast corner of
the house was excavated as having a large post, but the expected smaller
wall posts of the angle were not found. The northeast corner has, in
addition, rows of interior posts along the north and east walls. This
observed complex post pattern is interpreted as evidence of
remodleling/repair(Harden and Robinson 1975:105), however, it seems as
likely that these are original furnishings of the house. The center posts
were 9-12” in diameter and 10-21” into the subsoil.
tools include pitted stones/manos, 8-16 cm-long Boone chert or sandstone
chipped hoes, 7-14 cm siltstone or fine sandstone pelatoid celts, and
Boone chert chipped double-bit axes. Vanderpool has a strong Archaic
component, but the axes at least are strongly associated with Area B
(Harden and Robinson 1975:111). Arrows are notched, with a few triangular
(Harden and Robinson 1975:124-125). Knives, perforators, spokeshaves were
all recovered, but most are probably come from the earlier components.
Ceramics were predominantly clay-tempered Williams Plain, but the wide
range of tempers expected in the area is present. The authors (Harden and
Robinson 1975:165) note “so far not one Fourche Maline site has been C14
dated” and were still somewhat unclear as unclear as to when “Fulton” was.
Hopefully, these sites have been dated by now. The 1200-1600 Fulton aspect
component represented by the house was considered to include
shell-tempered pottery, arrows, beveled knives, and cache pits.
(1958) reports a further architectural variant at the Horton Site, a
“Fultonoid” (“after Gibson, though not Fulton in the sense that the
southeastern Caddoan area was Fulton,” Schaeffer 1958:13) village in the
lower Illinois River Valley and also in the Tenkiller Dam region. The site
lay on a creek bank or first terrace, near a spring. Plowing turned up
“wattle on burned clay house-chinking,” and subsequent excavation revealed
a damaged 10’ x 12’ floor surrounded by paired, staggered small posts and
having four larger 6-8” corner posts. The structure had burned, with the
daub concentration and burned posts most pronounced at the typically
windward northwest corner. The burned grass from the thatch covered a
large area of the center of the floor, which was burned orange. No
definite hearth was found and the north wall was missing. The Horton house
also had exterior small posts about 3’ from the north and south walls,
interpreted as a possible entrance or ramada (Shaeffer 1958:3).
damaged, a few floor-associations were made: there was a fragmentary
flexed male burial in the southwest interior corner and a fine, white,
ovate blade in the northeast part of the house. Other tools of
significance were ground pelatoid and rectangular celts, small chipped
stone hoes, hammerstones and manos, the double-bit ax, picks, and a
naturally hollow concretion “paint container,” Shaeffer 1958:14). There
was a cemetery 75 yards away from the house where 5 flexed individuals
were uncovered. They had with them a celt, engraved bottles, a Gary dart,
a serrated arrow, mussels shell, scrapers, and a stone elbow pipe
(Shaeffer 1958:3). Shell tempered Woodward Plain predominated the
ceramics, with much grit/sand tempered Williams Plain and some Sanders
Plain and Maxey Noded Redware, along with Avery Engraved and Davis
Incised. Fresno triangular and Harrell, Scallorn, and Bonham sidenotched
arrows were recovered (Scaeffer 1958:13). Corn and walnuts have been
identified, but no mention is made of the charred posts.
up the Arkansas River, in the Washita River valley of central Oklahoma,
Pillaert (1963) reported the excavation of the McLemore site (Wa-5, on
Pond Creek in Washita County) indicating that the architectural tradition
of the Ozark Trench Arkansas Valley extended into the Plains. Here, we are
approaching the stone, masonry, and jacal building traditions of the
Greater Puebloan cultural sphere. However, the recovered biological
materials from this Washita Valley site include deer, turkey, catfish and
mussels; as well as bison, jackrabbit, prairie chicken, and antelope. This
upland valley is thus a western extension of some of the Southeastern
Woodland habitat into the Plains portion of the Arkansas Valley. Gary and
Scallorn were rare and in the Plains pattern, the site has a vast array of
worked bone items unattested in the Southeast (Pillaert 1963:6, 33
passim). This house at least is dated (R-829/1, AD 380+50; R-829/2, AD
1331+55; O-1245, AD 1011+105; Pillaert 1963:43). It is interpreted as a
single component instance of late Gibson “period” Caddoans onto the Plains
(Pillaert 1963:1,42, 45). This was a thesis project at the University of
Oklahoma; most soil was dry screened, logs were kept, and detailed maps
made (Pillaert 1963:2).
house pattern was of small posts, with 2 central and 1 off-center large
support posts surviving. Note that the house has no extended entry. The 27
remaining outer wall posts were 5-8” in diameter and 5-16” deep. Interior
support posts were 11-13” in diameter and 11-14” deep. One of the large
posts was located very nearly in the center of the house. The house
measured 22’ north-south and 20’ east-west, nearly square. An ash
concentration was noted in the area within these posts, but no floor or
hearth. The house pattern was riddled with cache pits, prior,
contemporary, and later, sometimes with caps or false bottoms; so many
posts were missing from the excavated pattern (Pillaert 1963: Figure 4).
Burned “wattle” (daub/chink) was recovered from one pit and thought to be
associated with the structure (Pillaert 1963:42). This burnt clay is
described as “both stick and grass impressed….This plaster-like mixture,
approximately three and one-half inches thick, consisted of vertically
placed sticks and cane covered with a layer of clay containing grass and
twigs lying horizontally; (Pillaert 1963:42).” The undisturbed northwest
corner had a diagonal row of small posts across it, perhaps furniture, but
was interpreted as having been “constructed at an obtuse angle or to have
formed a gentle arc;” Pillaert 1963:6), and there were other internal
B-associated artifact classes of chronological significance for the house
are Harrell and Fresno arrows, Harrahey knives, thumbnail endscrapers,
Stafford series caliche/heterogeneous sub-conoidal jars with handles,
mullers, various specialized abraders, scrapers, awls, shell beads, and
bone rasps. Potential architectural tools included choppers, hammerstones,
celts, manos, bison scapulae hoes and bison tibia digging sticks. The same
range of materials was recovered with the 48 graves and 52 individuals,
predominately flexed inhumations, excavated in Grid C. The graves also
include as tools worked antelope/deer mandibles (in women’s graves) and
shell scrapers and as ideotechnic/sociotechnic items minerals, a shell
gorget and beads, and an effigy vessel (Pillaert 1963:6).
partial Washita River site house, the bison hunting and gardening Custer
focus (estimated 1400-1600) Mouse site on a floodplain ridge, was
excavated by the University of Oklahoma in 1957 and reported by Authur
(1959). Arthur (1959:29) considers his site part of afar-flung spread of
villages with cordmarked jars onto the Plains around 1300, into Texas as
far as the Alibates quarries and into Kansas and Nebraska, and coming into
contact with the Caddoans of the Washita River (Arthur 1959:30). The
occupants were believed essentially sedentary Prairie-Plains gardeners
with a disintegrating, but still essentially Misissippian economy, but the
silos and bison as well as lithics indicate increasing incorporation of
Plains traits The eastern wall was completely missing (Arthur 1959: 26).
The Mouse site post pattern was 20’ x 15’ with 4-6” diameter posts that
extended 4-8” into the sterile clay. The posts recorded were widely spaced
(2’-2.5’) where continuous. The eastern wall was completely missing
(Arthur 1959: Figure 8). The posts were only defined at sterile clay, so
some may have been missed, at any rate many were missing due to intrusive
“silos” (probably a more accurate functional rendering than “cache pits;”
1959:18). The house has a central hearth containing charcoal, fire-cracked
rock including manos, milling stones, and hammerstones; shell beads; and
Stafford Plain pottery. The house was oriented with the long axis roughly
site had a range of other materials similar to that found at McLemore,
including endscrapers, Harahey knives, shell beads,
caliche/heterogeneous-tempered pottery, cache/silo pits, and much worked
bone. The architecture represents a further attenuation of the Caddoan
ideal. In addition to not having a 4-square arrangement of internal posts,
or any roof support posts for that matter, the Mouse house also lacks an
extended entry and has somewhat more widely spaced wall posts.
opinion, the prehistoric architecture of the Ozark Trench Arkansas Basin
has similarities to that documented in the southern (Red River) Caddoan
area, as has been suggested by some of the above-cited authors, as well as
many others. These traits include the use of central roof supports.
However, the regions are marked by a divergence in square and round
houses. These similarities are continued in the ceramics and, to a far
greater time depth, the lithic styles. This interpretation is agreeable
for glottochronological reconstructions showing a long-term northern
spread of the Caddoan languages. It could easily extend to the Archaic
when less sedentary ancestors followed vast annual north-south rounds from
the Missouri to the Red River of the South, following migratory prey along
the margins of the grasslands.
rebuilding in the same spot and same orientation, resulting in stacked
prepared clay floors, is unknown. Nor do platform mounds have extensive
serie of construction stages. The architecture of the Middle Arkansas
Valley lacks the prepared clay fire basins of the Central Mississippi
Valley. Grass thatch was typical, and falls of roof debris are sometimes
noted in the centers of the floors. No split and woven cane matting is
noted, although burned cane and stick imprints in burned clay are
sometimes noted. True daub, clayey, mixed to mud with cut grass and
applied to cane lathe, is missing, and is rather mud and twigs packed
between closely spaced posts. I have encountered little evidence of the
building materials used. Some house burial was practiced but cemeteries of
flexed inhumations typically removed from the house appear more typical.
Lower Arkansas River Valley Architecture
River Valley is proposed as a long-standing cultural boundary. It is
generally taken to make the boundary between the Central and Lower
Mississippi Valleys. Scholtz (1968) conducted land clearance salvage
excavations at the Dumond site on the edge of the Grand Prairie terrace on
Bayou LaGrue that revealed a cluster of daub-scattered house mounds when
the site’s large pyramidal mound was leveled. Surface finds included shell
tempered plain pottery, Parkin Punctated sherds and snub-nose endscrapers
(Scholtz 1968;22), indicating a protohistoric date. Mound 23 trenching
revealed evidence of a house pattern, while Mound 44, with much daub, was
a “maze” of postholes, with no pattern identifiable. This pattern of
large, set posts in dense arrays from an unknown number of rebuildings is
repeated at Menard (House et al.1999). A similar condition exists in the
pile houses of Coahoma County excavated by Connaway (1984). A number of
Dumond site house mounds showed grass-tempered daub with split cane
impressions and associated dirt dauber nests. However, the 10 cm thick
layer of Mound 23 grass-tempered burned clay did not show cane or twig
wattle imprints (Scholtz 1968:16, 25). A rectangular, open-corner wall
trench measuring 7.1 x 6.2 m, with the corners to the cardinal directions,
was revealed on the old land surface under Mound 23. The ends of the
trenches come near to meeting. The wall trenches were 53-65 cm deep, with
8-20 cm (average 11-12 cm) postmolds evident in the trench. The posts
varied from closely adjacent to 34 cm apart. A 60 cm gap in the center of
the southeast wall is interpreted as a door. There was a large (35 cm
diameter, 70 cm deep) post in the center, and three other large posts
nearby, also perhaps roof supports, although they do not form a central
square. No formal hearth was noted. Smaller interior posts form a
diagonal across one corner, something noted in earlier sites in the
Central Valley core. A bundle burial had been placed on the floor at the
time that the house was burned, razed and covered. It had a bowl and
large sherd with it, and a second shell-tempered bowl was found on the
floor some distance away (Scholtz 1968:16).
Red River Valley Architecture
area (Fourche Maline-Caddo I-IV sequence) has a strong and distinctive
regional tradition in architecture as it does in ceramics, lithics, and
other aspects of material culture. The four-centerpost house, circular or
square, appears to be related to the four center post houses built in the
Middle Arkansas River Valley and north, and its origin might be posited to
the northward spread of Caddoan-speaking ancestral Arikara or Pawnee
people. In strong contrast to most of the other Mississippian World
culture areas discussed above, the Caddoan area lacks any sign of wall
Lower Mississippi River Valley Architecture
Ian Brown has
summarized what is known about the prehistoric archaeology of the Lower
Mississippi Valley. The Lower Mississippi Valley participates to some
extent in the rectangular wall trench trait of Mississippian culture.
However, the region had, throughout prehistory, move circular structures
than the Central valley.
There is a
cluster of late seventeenth-early eighteenth centuries villages on the
bluffs overlooking the lowermost Yazoo basin. The Tunica, Yazoo, Koroa,
Ofo, Chackchiuma and other tribes, of highly varied linguistic
antecedents, congregated in the area, so attribution of material to
specific groups is problematical. Haynes Bluff is one of the more
important of the known historic Indian sites; occupation there goes back
to at least the Coles Creek period. Mound A excavations have revealed
four construction stages, with intervening burned structures, dating
between the Winterville II and Russell phases (Brain 1988:206). Given the
size of the test pit, little architectural detail can be expected. The
upper floor was hard packed, 2-5 cm thick yellow clay, burned in areas.
Two posts, 15 and 18 cm in diameter, were noted in this Late Mississippian
Wasp Lake II phase floor. At least 75 cm of fill was deposited over this
structure during the Protohistoric Russell phase, indicating considerable
historic earthmoving to bring this mound to 10 m height (Brain 1988:226).
It stood on a 175 cm-thick Late Mississippian fill. No features were noted
on the first (Winterville II) and second (Lake George II) floors. They
were separated by a meter of fill. Only half the height of the mound was
plumbed by this test unit (Brain 1988:206). On the northwest side of the
mound a series of superimposed burned structures was tested. They included
at least three daubed wall trench houses, the earliest, dating to the Lake
George phase, having its corners to the cardinal directions. Excavation on
top of Mound C showed, immediately under the mould, a layer of ash,
charcoal, and some burned clay from a structure which stood on a 18” fill
covering an earlier burned structure. One of the three graves associated
with this last component contained European goods (Brain 1988:198). This
is consistent with the use of mound tops in the Mississippi Valley
remaining in use until the historic period.
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