Illinois State Archaeological Survey’s Elizabeth Watts Malouchos, a research archaeologist, and Alleen Betzenhauser, coordinator of the ISAS American Bottom Field Station are co-editors on an edited volume, 'Reconsidering Mississippian Communities and Households', published by the University of Alabama Press.
Watts Malouchos and Betzenhauser bring together scholars researching diverse Mississippian Southeast and Midwest sites to explore aspects of community and household construction, maintenance, and dissolution. Thirteen additional case studies suggest that community can be enacted and expressed in various ways, including in feasting, pottery styles, and war and conflict.
Together, they answered some questions about what the newly-edited text has to offer.
What inspired you to pursue this edited volume?
Both of our research agendas explore the processes of how communities come together, particularly the myriad ways group identities during the Mississippian period were created, negotiated, and sometimes rejected. A foundational work in our study of Mississippian communities was an edited volume by J. Daniel Rogers and Bruce Smith (1995), 'Mississippian Households and Communities'. The case studies in the volume provided copious data on Mississippian households and demonstrated the diversity of ways that Mississippian societies were organized, but didn’t explicitly address or theorize Mississippian communities. In the two decades since the original volume’s publication, theoretical approaches to the archaeology of households and communities have shifted to focus on the dynamic social and historical processes that constitute the construction, maintenance, and dissolution of communities at multiple scales. In light of these advances, we wanted to revisit foundational notions of Mississippian households and communities, move communities to the center of the discussion, and reconsider communities as gatherings of not only peoples, but places, practices, and things, too.
What can people expect from this new edited volume?
Wide-ranging case studies from established scholars and up-and-coming researchers that cover a large geographical range (Florida to Arkansas, Illinois to North Carolina) and time frame (AD 900s–1700s). This research is rooted in theoretical developments within archaeology and the study of communities. The contributors rely on multiple lines of evidence (e.g., oral histories, artifact assemblages, mound construction sequences) and technological developments in field and analytical methods (e.g., geophysical survey, Geographic Information Systems) to elucidate and trace historical changes in Mississippian communities and households at various scales.
What drew you to studying Mississippian communities?
We were both fascinated by the city of Cahokia, the largest Indigenous city north of what is now Mexico. Through aspects of our individual research, we sought a better understanding of how disparate peoples rapidly came together and created a new communal ethos at an unprecedented scale during the city’s foundation and subsequently how the processes of Cahokian community-making reverberated across the wider Mississippian world. During our formative years, we worked together at what is now the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. During large-scale transportation excavations in the American Bottom, the region surrounding Cahokia, we became interested in how group identities were materialized in the seemingly ordinary details of everyday life, like the architectural styles you choose for your house and the techniques you use to make cooking pots.
How did you go about gathering contributions?
The volume developed from a session we organized at a Society of American Archaeology annual meeting. We reached out to researchers employing advanced technologies, engaging contemporary social theory, and utilizing innovative datasets to investigate Mississippian households and communities and invited them to present their research. Transitioning from the session to the volume, we had the opportunity to expand the discussion, so we identified geographic, temporal, and content gaps from the session, and invited additional scholars to contribute to the volume. The volume provided an incredible opportunity to work with esteemed colleagues, and we are thrilled with the fantastic lineup of participants and the rigorous and thoughtful scholarship they contributed to the volume.
What did the contributors’ findings reveal?
The contributors report their new findings concerning various aspects of community-making and household archaeology throughout the Mississippian world. Four broad themes weave the chapters together. The first section consists of five chapters that touch on how communities and households articulated with each other and effected historical changes on local and inter-regional scales. The two chapters in the second section investigate how communities were formed in times of conflict and through coalesce as indicated through cultural practices including household composition, pottery manufacture and use, and construction of palisades. The third section demonstrates ways in which the cosmos was integrated into the creation of Mississippian communities and settlements through orienting houses, mounds, and storage facilities. The final section is composed of three cases where movements of people, materials, and finished objects were implicated in interactions between different communities and the creation of new identities.
Who will be interested in reading the volume?
We think the volume, like its predecessor, is an indispensable resource for understanding Mississippian social organization and is important for any scholars, professionals, and students investigating Mississippian societies. The volume will be of interest to any archaeologists that study households and communities as well as archaeologists with interests in topics including landscapes, social identities, social memory, coalescence, conflict, remote sensing, ceramic analysis, relationality, and assemblage theory. We hope the volume, like its predecessor, will be revisited and reconsidered in light of advances in method and theory and the analysis of new datasets in the next quarter-century.