Resiliency and Reorganization

So I read a book a while ago by the Delcourt’s called Prehistoric Native Americans and Ecological Change: Human Ecosystems in Eastern North America since the Pleistocene. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.  I’ve always been interested in systems theory, especially being exposed to Gregory Bateson way back in the early aughts (how old am i? i did squats yesterday and i certainly feel old).  Anyways,  the Delcourts propose panarchy as a way of integrating ecological and cultural data sets – although archaeologists have used environmental data for well over one hundred years, panarchy and resiliency evaluate hierarchical, self-organized components that are interlocked into one system that need not ever reach a stasis. The absence of a steady state, or equilibrium, is fundamental to the work of the New Ecologists –  in a wordy way,  we can call it nonequilibrium dynamics.  In a very simplified and abstract perspective,  Mississippi Period polities needed three levels of panarchy to organize their agricultural chiefdoms. Archaic Indians, however, needed only one.  These levels are comprised of all the moving parts, both cultural and ecological, that kept their subsistence regimes functioning.  Once three levels are acquired, the system as a whole requires exceedingly more complex sub-systems of organization in order to stay healthy. Generally systems are self-organizing and adaptive but destabilizing forces are also present – the more complex the system with greater levels of panarchy, the more consequential destabilization can be.

As I’m thinking about it, the LMV underwent processes of balkanization and coalescence during the late Prehistoric, Protohistoric, and Historic periods (1500, 1540-1680, +).  I think 3 particular cultural/ecological elements (levels of panarchy) were particularly salient during Protohistoric reorganization  – 1) Climate change (the waning of Medieval Warm period), 2) Subsistence regimes (the system of tribute flows and landscape intensification), and 3) chiefly cycling/fission fusion processes (unstable social systems). I think its likely that late prehistoric polities in the Yazoo Basin already had sufficient problems with self-0rganization before contact and were only stable contingent on the continued balance of the 3 factors above.  An additional system of inputs,  the Soto entrada, destabilized systems of self-organization and subsistence/tribute flows such to point that few could manage reorganizing.  Its likely, also, that Mississippian polities in the Yazoo were already beginning to undergo stress before Soto due to the waning of the MWP.  In the wake of destabilized chiefly regimes, and the collapse of prehistoric Mississippian cultures in the Yazoo Basin,  we’re left with numerous small scale groups, petite nations, that subsequently have to renegotiate a changing and changed world. A substantially drier and colder environment coupled with inchoate, failing leaders likely resulted in large-scale population movements around the landscape (see the Tunica, Tioux, and Grigra).  Documentary records suggest to us the only society that could effectively reorganize into an approximation of what the used to be were the Sun polity at the Grand Village in the Natchez Bluffs – the Sun polity was in no way Quigualtam, but at the least they claimed some tenuous power over the districts in and around their hub at the Grand Village. However, in light of  a new social context in which there was one more level of panarchy, the European trade influence and French/English territorial wars (combined with their various indigenous allies), the Great Suns’ efforts at reorganization could not sufficiently remake a polity approximating the river-spanning empires of Quiz Quiz and Quigualtam.
Anyways,  these are my thoughts on how Panarchy and Resiliency can be used to understand LMV processes – happy to hear thoughts and comments!



1 Comment

Filed under Academic Ramblings

One response to “Resiliency and Reorganization

  1. First reaction: whoa, someone else has read that book!


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