Reconsidering institutional collapse and social transformation at Moundville during the Fifteenth century

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The collapse of ancient complex societies is a topic that denotes a rapid disruption to traditional ways of life. This research reconsiders models for social collapse from the Mississippian center of Moundville, located in west-central Alabama. Collapse has been recognized at the site as a rupture in mound ceremonialism, nonlocal connections, and representational art. These changes indicate that structural elements were no longer enacted by influential individuals or were reproduced at other locations around communal institutions. This paper evaluates these models through an analysis of stratigraphically excavated ceramic, stone, and ritual paraphernalia from Mound P at Moundville that date from A.D. 1400-1520. Around A.D. 1450, the settlement pattern in the region shifted and some ritual practices were emphasized as others fell out of favor, suggesting there was a change in social organization but continuity in ritual expression. This research demonstrates that mound construction ceased and nonlocal connections were de-emphasized, but that representational art shifted to emphasize a restricted range of imagery in a highly visual manner. The change and continuity of produced and consumed objects during the fifteenth century indicates that there were structural shifts, not collapse, in materiality and monumentality during the fifteenth century in the Black Warrior Valley.

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