The North American Continental System: Interaction and Exchange across the Continent

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

The pre-Columbian peoples of North America inhabited a "known world" that stretched, at a minimum, from Canada to Panama. Archaeological discoveries show that items such as shell, obsidian, and bead-types were conveyed over thousands of miles, while ethnohistoric accounts document the movement of people across equally vast distances. Just as important, shared stories, oral narratives, ideologies, and traditions point to histories of interaction between distant places stretching deep into antiquity. How should archaeologists deal with these long-distance connections, and what do these connections mean for cultural narratives and models of social change we construct for regions where we work? This session will bring together archaeologists working in different parts of North America to compare our continent’s history of interregional interactions. By patching together a mosaic of different stories of interaction we will build towards a bigger history of North America’s dynamic past that will help us understand its unique indigenous present.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-12 of 12)

  • Documents (12)

  • Big (Pre)History in North America:a view from the Southwest (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Lekson.

    While there are hopeful signs of change, for most of the last half-century American Anthropological Archaeology has been highly skeptical or openly hostile to continental-scale dynamics, particularly north of Mexico. Why was that? This paper briefly explores the history of our discipline, contrasts it to Europe and Latin America, and remarks on emerging, more realistic frames-of-reference for the prehistory of Native agricultural societies in North America. Examples begin with old chestnuts in...

  • Big Picture History in North America: Integrating Narratives of Our Continent’s Past (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mikael Fauvelle. Erin M. Smith.

    No society exists in isolation. In order to understand the history of North America it is therefore critical to see the continent as a landscape of mutually known and interacting places and peoples. One of the goals of this panel is to bring together specialists from different corners of the continent to share narratives of regional interaction in their areas. This paper will introduce the thematic and theoretical groundings for the session, suggesting that both systemic and historical models...

  • Bundled Transfers and Water Shrines:the big-historical implications of a pan-American phenomenon (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Pauketat.

    Even a cursory outline of the pan-continental history of non-domestic circular architecture impels us to relate similar buildings, some of which are water shrines, in the greater Cahokia region to Mesoamerica and the Southwest. In the central Mississippi valley, standardized steam baths, rotundas, and circular platforms make a dramatic appearance in the late eleventh century CE. Explaining the big-historical patterns, of which this appearance is a part, entails theorizing the bundled transfer of...

  • Extended Relations in the Great Lakes Region (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only William Fox.

    Archaeological evidence from the Great Lakes region reflects fluctuating periods of long distance contacts over the past millennia. The mechanisms behind and meaning of these networks is considered in light of site-specific and regional distribution patterns of "exotic" goods.

  • Following the Data for Long-distance Travels (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alice Kehoe.

    Part of the postcolonial movement is recognition of long-distance trade and other interactions in the Americas. As late as mid-twentieth century, anthropology textbooks dichotomized the world between "progressive, dynamic" Western civilizations and "primitive peoples" alleged to remain isolated in small villages. Unilineal cultural evolution constructed by Enlightenment didacts and continued in Western "rise of civilization" histories and textbooks such as Johnson and Earle’s Evolution of Human...

  • How Modern Boundaries Blind Us to the Pre-Columbian Known World:a view from the Southwest/Northwest (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Randall McGuire.

    Archaeologists live in a North America divided by lines. These lines include the borders of nations, the boundaries of states and provinces and the limits that we as archaeologists have drawn around culture areas. These lines affect in subtle and complex ways, how we frame questions, how we define the boundaries of our studies, what journals we read, what colleagues we talk to, where we go to school and dozens of other aspects of archaeology. Most if not all of these lines had no meaning for the...

  • Information Exchange in the Postclassic Oikoumene:a view from midcontinental North America. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Peter Peregrine.

    Several years ago Steve Lekson and I proposed a Postclassic Oikoumene stretching from Mesoamerica through the Southwest and into midcontinental North America. A frequent question has been how such a "known world" could have been created in the absence of long-distance trade and transportation systems. In this paper I explore how information was exchanged among the peoples of midcontinental North America in the late prehistoric and early historic periods. I examine how hunters and gatherers serve...

  • Inheritance, Innovation, and Interaction:the motivations for and consequences of social interaction in the context of initial settlement (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Des Lauriers.

    While providing a general outline of several initial settlement strategies pursued across the Americas, I argue that social networks between the small-scale communities involved would be established rapidly upon arrival. Certainly, the events of initial contact and process of network formation would have occurred within a sub-generational time-frame. The flow of material goods, genes, and information between members of the small-scale pioneering communities is essential to the survival of...

  • Interactions and Social Change in California: A Perspective from the Far West (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Erin M. Smith. Mikael Fauvelle.

    People in California have interacted with groups near and far for thousands of years. Here we take a big picture approach by looking at how interactions between people across time and space affect the histories of adjunct regions. In this paper, we first establish connections between people in California to the Northwest, Southwest, Mexico, and afar to demonstrate the scale of meaningful interactions. Second, by considering wide-ranging and long-term interactions, we better explain the agency...

  • Long-Distance Connections Across the Southeastern US and Mesoamerica (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nancy White.

    Despite over a century of research, unquestionable evidence of routine and sustained interaction/communication between the U.S. Southeast and Mesoamerica remains elusive. Similarities in iconography and ritual are very general, possibly ancient. Mexican obsidian and tropical plants occur rarely and only at the outskirts of the Southeast, while earthen mounds and some Mississippian-like artifacts occur on the northern Mexican Gulf Coast. The most glaring (absence of) evidence is the lack of...

  • Natural Disasters and Interregional Interactions:the establishment and maintenance of long-distance connections beyond the Northern Plains (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Gerald Oetelaar.

    Some 7627 calendar years ago, the Plinian eruption of Mount Mazama prompted small, dispersed bison hunting groups to abandon temporarily their traditional homelands and seek refuge among their distant relatives in the east. During their stay, they established new social ties and learned new technologies such as the use of stone boiling to extract nut oils. Returning to their homeland, they adapted this technology to extract bone grease and produce pemmican. As a reliable, storable, portable, and...

  • Tracing the World’s Edge:Northwest Coast interactions with the external world (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Colin Grier. Grant Keddie.

    In this paper, we address the extent to which Northwest Coast societies, and specifically those of the Salish Sea, were engaged in, participated in, or were connected to an external world beyond their own perceived borders. We consider four elements of the problem. First, we examine ethnographic data pertaining to the spatial extent of the known world, and trace its borders. We then consider the flow of exogenous and exotic materials into the Northwest Coast over time, and assess the...