The As(h)cendant: Cosmological Work of Material Traces of Burning in the American Southeast


Archaeological contexts of the American Southeast are rife with ash deposits that go beyond the residues of mundane burning activities. Burials and other pits at Stallings Island have layers of wood ash sandwiched between charcoal and shell; some rockshelters of the Cumberland Plateau contain successive layers of ash, each capped with earth; freshwater shell was mixed with ash to fill a massive pit on Silver Glen Run; and in north-central Florida, a dried sink filled with peat was burned to produce an ash layer containing scores of vessels. These and other cases span millennia and vast geography, and thus do not lend themselves to generalizations about the meaning or purpose of ash as a medium of ritual practice. However, in the broader cosmological framework of the Native Southeast, ash is a substance that was brought into existence through a transformation of matter that connected the Lower and Upper Worlds. In this sense, ash was indexical of cleansing or rebirth, much as the lifting smoke of a burning fire or the rising celestial bodies of the eastern horizon. As an ascendant, ash interacted with other agents to effect change or ensure desired outcomes while offering technical options for materializing expectation.​

Cite this Record

The As(h)cendant: Cosmological Work of Material Traces of Burning in the American Southeast. Kenneth Sassaman, Asa R. Randall, Neill J. Wallis. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443956)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.735; min lat: 24.847 ; max long: -73.389; max lat: 39.572 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 18861