Fall 2014 FABBL #3: On the Mississippi Mound Trail

Photo by C. Madeiros
Jessica Kowalski presented FABBL #3. Photo by C. Madeiros.

Our third FABBL of the Fall 2014 semester occurred on October 10 with Jessica Kowalski’s presentation “On the Mississippi Mound Trail: A Report on Two Field Seasons of Excavations.”

Jessica discussed her work under the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which contracted three different universities to perform excavations over two summers for a public highway project, with the intent of building tourist signs. Her particular area included 9 sites with 14 mounds over 13 weeks of field work. The historical period covered ca. 1200-1500 AD; and her presentation focused on research issues, political economy, mortuary practices, and changes in iconography during this period. The largest problem encountered during field work was how to formulate a research design for testing about 30 mound sites.

Their design looked at the project goals, time, and resources to determine chronology and construction techniques. The methods included LiDAR, mapping with GPS, exploratory testing through split spoon cores and bucket augers, and test unit excavation. The methods were updated slightly during the second season. Jessica then presented some sites that worked well with these methods, and some that yielded disappointing results with these methods, before focusing on the site that is the main focus of her dissertation research. The overall project yielded a chronology for dating mounds: Coles Creek Settlement 900-1200 AD, Winterville phase ca. 1200 AD, Late George Phase ca. 1400 AD. The Late George Phase sees a mound building explosion.

Jessica’s dissertation research focuses on Arcola, which has 3 of the 6 original mounds still standing. The first season encountered some problems relating to identification. They cored and augured Mound A, and excavated a test unit in which they found mound erosion, Late George phase and Protohistoric ceramics, and Winterville phase ceramics. During the second season they excavated Mound C, with a cut face on the summit. They found a burn floor surface and radiocarbon dated it to between 1435 and 1490 AD. Mound C has the potential for intact mound surfaces, and is a Late George phase site. During the presentation, she also discussed how to date a mound, including problems with balanced testing of mound fill and finding surfaces and the differences in the materials mounds are built on. Mississippi mounds are built of levee silts and sands for expedience, while Coles Creek mounds had a core and finish – the focus is on whether the mounds are built up or out and the sociopolitical implications of how the mounds were built. Jessica plans to continue research within the Arcola site.

Leave a Reply