Mounds at the Margins: The Effect of Temporal Frontiers on Archaeological Interpretation

Author(s): Megan Kassabaum

Year: 2018


The practice of building earthen mounds has tremendous time depth in the American South, and the variation in these monuments across time and space continues to spark debates regarding their functions and social significance. A great deal of attention has been focused on the shifting functions of mounds during Terminal Woodland / Emergent Mississippian times, when platform mound-and-plaza complexes become commonplace, corn agriculture becomes the norm, and higher levels of institutionalized status differentiation develop. In this paper, I define this transition as a "temporal frontier" and interrogate the effects of the period’s marginal position on its archaeological interpretation. In particular, I draw attention to the distorting effect of archaeology’s backward gaze in examining the changes that take place at temporal frontiers and advocate for a more forward-looking approach to the interpretation of these pivotal moments. My primary case study focuses on the Late Woodland Coles Creek culture (AD 700 – 1200) of the Lower Mississippi Valley and the interpretation of early platform mounds. Finally, I briefly consider how the concept of temporal frontiers may be used to better comprehend the archaeology of other transitional periods in United States prehistory.

Cite this Record

Mounds at the Margins: The Effect of Temporal Frontiers on Archaeological Interpretation. Megan Kassabaum. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 445298)

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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): 20647