Mississippian Culture in the Yazoo Basin

Before 1541 and the wrecking ball of disease, pigs, and greed, Mississippi’s Yazoo Basin was populated by a complex arrangement of monument building societies named by Hernando de Soto as Quizquiz and Quigualtam. The former were described as fisher-folk and farmer-folk living on the fertile oxbows and rivers of the northern Yazoo Basin – they are the topic of my dissertation research. I’ve been troubled lately by what it might mean when I call them “Mississippian” peoples.  In its classical form, Mississippian was meant to convey many things: social organization, subsistence practices, technological innovations, and ideological persuasions.  In its classical form, Mississippian is still tied to cultural developments taking place in and around the American Bottom at around AD 1000 and I think to use the term now implies a historical relationship between places.  We know now that hierarchy, monument building, shell-tempered pottery, and maize agriculture don’t really happen all at once in the middle of the country, but rather, in a mosiac fashion across the Southeast.  The deepest antiquity of monuments lies along the Gulf South, in Louisiana and Florida, and the earliest intimations of hierarchy may have preceded Mississippian by several centuries among the Coles Creek and Plum Bayou cultures of the Lower Valley (I’m not along on this thought [see Anderson and Sassaman’s new book] but I have friends who disagree as well – right now I’m thinking, or rather typing, out loud and am open to discussion and all viewpoints).  Nevertheless, there is a culture of the American Bottom that is “Classically Mississippian” from which many of the later prehistoric societies of the Southeast share a connection (I could use a stronger word here but am choosing to be ambiguous). Does that mean for me to use the word Mississippian in the northern Yazoo Basin, I’m implying a genetic, affinial, and/or causal relationship between my research area and the heartland of Classical Mississipian culture?   Or is it the case, like Fort Ancient or Plaquemine cultures, that the northern Yazoo Basin is something else entirely, connected with the American Bottom but, perhaps, also different or variable enough to earn its own name or category? I’m not sure and this topic has me evaluating what it means when I name and assign an archaeological site to an archaeological culture, but it is important to note here that technologies and ceramics characteristic of Classical Mississippian  are often found at my site in North Mississippi.  Objects like Mill Creek chert hoes, Burlington chert microblades, and Cahokia Cord-marked ceramics have all been found where I work.  I guess what I have to ask myself, and other scholars as well, is how different is my research area from what surrounds it and how different/similar is it to manifestations of complex societies across the Southeast during the first 500 years of the 2nd millennium AD?  To me, this question is rhetorical because I’m working on procuring the data to answer my own question, but I welcome input from you all out there who work with and or near me on similar questions related to cultural development.


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