Resilience in the Ancient Gulf South (RAGS)


This past June, my colleague Elizabeth Chamberlain (Tulane Earth and Environmental Sciences) and I brought to a close our second season of field work in coastal Louisiana, and our first set of excavations at a large, Native American monumental town called Bayou Grand Caillou (BGC). The site is named after a bayou that flows right next to it and at several points in the past, a tributary of the Mississippi River flowed in the area, forming the land on which the mounds were built. In the image below, the location of BGC is intersected by deltaic lobes number 4, also known as Lafourche, and number 2, Teche, making for a fairly complicated geomorphic situation.

There are several primary objectives to our research, including understanding how the Mississippi River builds land and what it means for Native communities to build monumental infrastructure in a dynamic coastal environment – from an anthropological perspective, we are interested in evaluating the ways in which the construction of earthen mounds, plazas, villages, and towns along Louisiana’s ever-shifting landscape signifies resiliency and an adaptation to lifeways in an environmentally active region.

In and of itself, resilience is a complex term that means quite little – in short, it is the ability of a system to adapt to and weather change. But in the framework on indigenous settlement patterns along the coast, resilience signifies how native peoples developed systems, means, cultures, stories, and knowledge to purposefully live in a place that is fertile but susceptible to rapid change due to hurricanes, river-based flooding, tidal-influx, erosion, and subsidence, as well as intense extremes in temperature. Why is resilience important? As we continue to live and build in coastal regions, where most of the world’s populations are based, sea-level rise, erosion, and increasingly tremendous storms will make “resilient” buildings and “resilient” lifestyles more and more important, especially if we are to avoid the massive costs associated with consistently rebuilding after large-scale environmental disturbance. Here, we look to geology, geomorphology, and archaeology to develop science that can help inform policy initiatives and make policy recommendations.

As soon as we have a field-report ready, we’ll post one up here, but until then, feel free to look through the older posts on this website to see how the fieldwork went.


Elizabeth Chaberlain, Jaap Nienhaus, and David Yates





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