Global Perspectives on the Archaeology of Ritually Mounded Landscapes

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

Mounds constructed of all sorts of materials (stone, earth, shell) in myriad forms have attracted archaeologists from the very foundations of the discipline. From some of archaeology’s most famous sites to humble features barely noted on the landscape, mounds offer opportunities to examine past behaviour from a variety of perspectives. One consensus that appears to emerge in the archaeology of mounded landscapes is that these features are often constructed in relation to ‘ritual’ of some sort. Yet ritual remains a remarkably slippery concept in archaeology. The meanings, symbolism, and contexts of these mounds often necessitate a detailed reading of the landscape and associated settlements and ecologies. This session pulls together recent archaeological research on mounded landscapes from around the world to examine some of the theoretical and methodological approaches currently being used to explore concepts of ritual in past societies. Specifically, case studies will explore the ritual activities in the past that resulted in the construction of the mounded landscapes that now form part of the archaeological record.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-11 of 11)

  • Documents (11)

  • 400 Years of History and Cross-cultural Interactions in a Ritually Mounded Landscape of South Tanna, Vanuatu (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Flexner.

    A mounded landscape in south Vanuatu provides archaeological evidence relating to chiefly performance, voyaging, and ritual transformation during a period of cross-cultural contacts spanning 400 years or more. The site of Kwaraka is located at the southern end of Tanna Island. The area has a view on clear days of the neighbouring islands Futuna and Aniwa, and there is ethnohistoric evidence of long-term patterns of interaction between Tannese people and the people of these nearby islands....

  • Barrow Roads and Bronze Age Wayfaring (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Catherine Frieman. James Lewis.

    The idea of the journey is central to many narratives of European Bronze Age social structure, economy, and cosmology, but the mechanics of journeying in the Bronze Age are rarely discussed. We know that objects and raw materials travelled great distances, we think that exotic things and ideas were sought after, and it appears that Bronze Age people maintained ties with kin and trading partners over very great distances. Much of this distance was inevitably traversed on water; and riverine...

  • Ceremonial Practices, Feasts, and Persistent Places: A Ritually Mounded Landscape Constructed by Hunter-gatherers in Southern California (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lynn Gamble.

    Shellmounds have not been recognized as prominent ritual features in southern California, despite evidence to the contrary. The largest extant shellmound in the region is on Santa Cruz Island, measures 270 by 210 meters (roughly 45,000 m² in area), is 8 m higher than the terrace it rests on, is covered with 50 house depressions, and dates to 6000-2500 BP. In the 1920s, three cemeteries were excavated at the top of El Montón; one young woman stood out among the over 200 individuals in that she...

  • Changing Social Spatiality in Mounded Funerary Landscapes (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andreja Malovoz.

    Funerary landscapes, as places where all fractions of society meet to honour the rituals of social and identity-building importance, can be used to attain an insight into group-specific attitudes towards spatiality. These attitudes allowed for people's engagement with various elements of their environment as a means of deliberate creation of lasting ritual landscapes. However, social spatiality in funerary contexts is not static, but subject to changes in the group's perception of both their...

  • Heaps of Time: Methodological Considerations for Dating Earthen Mound Construction (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Phil Stastney.

    Establishing a robust chronology is fundamental to consideration of the ritual significance of mounds. This can be as simple as placing a mound or group of mounds into their chronological and cultural context, exploring the chronological relationships between mounds and the pacing of mound construction, through to unpicking sequences of construction, use and reuse of a single mound. Fixing the act, or acts, of "mounding" in time is no less important than fixing them in their place in the...

  • Raising the Ground, Building a Mound: Bronze Age ‘Barrowscapes’ in Southern Britain (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Catriona Gibson.

    The prehistoric record of Britain is punctuated by episodes of monumental building, with the Early Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age being particular cases in point. Yet the Neolithic megalithic monuments and long barrows are quite different forms of funerary and ritual architecture compared to the succeeding Bronze Age barrow traditions. The former could be continuously accessed and activated until their final blocking. On the other hand, once a mound was erected over a Bronze Age grave, that...

  • Recognizing Ritual in the Elaboration of Earthwork Construction at Jaketown (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kelly Ervin.

    Elaborately constructed earthworks indicate monumental behavior requiring unique social processes to produce. This paper presents new subsurface data on the Late Archaic Poverty Point earthworks at the Jaketown site in the Mississippi Yazoo Basin. Unit excavations and soil coring demonstrate detailed and complicated internal architecture standing in contrast to earlier mounded landscapes in the eastern United States. Challenging traditional agrocentric models for socially complex societies, this...

  • Ritual and/or Transformation: The Anadara granosa-Dominated Shell Mounds of the Australian Tropics (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patrick Faulkner. Peter Hiscock.

    Mounded shell deposits dominated by the mudflat bivalve Anadara granosa are highly visible features on the north Australian coast. Because of their distinctive, often monumental, features they have been a focal point for research into hunter-gatherer groups in these coastal environments. Interpretations of these mounded deposits have oscillated between those concerned with the functioning of prehistoric economic systems and those invoking ceremonial and ritual behaviours. In this paper we review...

  • The Ritual of Return: Mounded Landscapes in Colonial California (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Tsim Schneider.

    In the United States, prehistoric and historical archaeology subfields are characterized by distinct intellectual histories, methods, and theoretical frameworks that continue to guide where archaeologists apply their craft. For California prehistorians, deeply layered shellmounds long represented ideal sites for chronology building. Until recently, shellmounds were also unlikely places for historical archaeologists to investigate interactions between Native Americans and colonial institutions....

  • Towards a Further Understanding of Samoan Star Mounds: Considering the Intersection of Ecology, Politics, and Ritual in Ancient Samoa (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Seth Quintus. Jeffrey Clark.

    Star mounds, named for their star-like shape, have been an enigmatic feature class in the Samoan Archipelago. Researchers have posited several potential functions for these monumental architectural features, including grave and territorial markers, but their primary function appears to have been as surfaces for pigeon catching. But, excavations of these features have been few and data limited. Here, we review old as well as recent data on star mounds relating to their physical attributes (size,...

  • Wizards, Dragons and Giants: Creating Motte Castles in an English Landscape (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elaine Jamieson.

    Medieval motte castles are large flat-topped earth and stone mounds, often coupled with an enclosure or bailey, and represent a characteristic component of the British landscape. Mottes often dominate their immediate surroundings, with many remaining visually impressive monuments to this day. Although their creation often involved substantial landscape change, it is becoming increasingly clear that continuity could also be maintained. Many mottes were placed at points in the landscape with...