Hierarchy, scale, and complexity: Arcola Mounds (22WS516) and Mississippian ceremonialism in the Southern Yazoo Basin

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This dissertation examines ancient complexity among Mississippian mound centers in the Southern Yazoo Basin of the Lower Mississippi River Valley using an integrated landscape and historical approach. Combining a regional settlement pattern analysis, field investigations at the multiple-mound center of Arcola (22WS516), and a ceramic functional analysis including additional contexts from Rolling Fork (22SH506), and Winterville (22WS516), mound centers are best characterized as low-density residential ceremonial centers. Dispersed populations were integrated through mound construction activities and group gatherings at these large sites. Settlement pattern analysis indicates that large, multiple-mound centers are located in close proximity, likely precluding the presence of buffer zones, an attribute of competitive chiefly polities. Hinterland residents, possibly aligned with different polities, likely interacted regularly across the basin. While there are examples of size hierarchies within four distinct mound center pairings, the pairings are between three and six hours apart overland, extraordinarily close if these polities were organized as complex chiefdoms. Field investigations at the Arcola Mounds, consisting of geophysical survey, controlled artifact surface collection, and testing of geophysical anomalies, delineated two residential areas at the site, north and south of Mound A. Excavations encountered diverse contexts dated to different times in the site’s history, between AD 1350 and 1500, indicating low population density at any one point in time. Although ceramic styles are diverse, ceramic inventories are homogenous between sites and through time suggesting a high amount of social integration across the region and the lack of boundaries to exchange. Ceramic functional analysis, combining data sets from three sites, indicates a basin-wide preference for bowls at the mound centers with different kinds of bowls appropriate for different kinds of group activity. These patterns in mound use and ceramic vessel use have a deep history in the basin, reminiscent of Late Woodland Coles Creek mound centers and the large Early Mississippian centers in the region. With little evidence of warfare pressure or elite manipulation of long-distance exchange networks, polity integration appears based upon ideological principles, rooted in communal practice. The persistence of communality in the Southern Yazoo Basin suggests that some local traditions endured despite changes in the subsistence base, and that strongly corporate traditions can be associated with large scales of monumental construction.

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