Archaeology of Louisiana

By Kassabaum, Megan C. | Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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Archaeology of Louisiana


Kassabaum, Megan C., Southeastern Archaeology


Archaeology of Louisiana. MAPdC A. REES (ed.) with a foreword by Ian W. Brown. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2010. xxvii, 456 pp. ill., maps. $95.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 9780807137031; $40.00 (Paper), ISBN: 0-8071-3705-7.

Much has changed in Louisiana archaeology since R. W. Neuman (1984) published An Introduction to Louisiana Archaeology nearly three decades ago. Archaeology of Louisiana provides an exceptional summary of these changes and addresses the status of archaeology within the state's boundaries. This volume provides a much-needed chronological, methodological, and theoretical synthesis that will be useful beyond those boundaries, appealing to archaeologists who work not only in Louisiana, but throughout the American South. Moreover, Rees makes the volume publicly accessible with basic definitions, outlines of major theoretical approaches, and clear explanations of chronological divisions.

In his foreword, Brown cautions us to "mind the gaps" in our knowledge - to be aware when we are stepping from "stable platforms" of well-established understandings to "fast-moving trains" of current debates and unanswered questions. Byrd and Neuman's contribution (Chapter 2) on the history of archaeology in Louisiana gives credit to academics, cultural resource management professionals, and avocational archaeologists alike for getting us to where we are today. Each subsequent chapter provides the reader with a stable platform (in the form of a concise summary of what is known about a given place and time) while articulating the as-yet-unresolved debates over less understood aspects of Louisiana's past. The authors also suggest directions for future research to fill the remaining gaps.

Chapters 3 through 5 focus on Paleoindian and Archaic cultures. Admitting that much of the information for his chapter on Paleoindian and Early Archaic came from outside the state's borders, Rees acknowledges Louisiana's untapped potential, calling for exploration of deeply buried and submerged sites. Conversely, Saunders's and Gibson's chapters on Middle and Late Archaic emphasize the importance of Louisiana archaeologists' work to broader understandings of mound building, hunter-gatherer societies, and trajectories of social evolution in general. Saunders focuses on Watson Break and underscores advances made in interpretations of the South's earliest earthworks. The picture of life at Poverty Point painted by Gibson is doubly compelling in that it is beautifully written and solidly grounded in archaeology.

Chapters 6 through 9 focus on Woodland cultures. Hays and Weinstein call for efforts to explain the dramatic changes that occur between Poverty Point and Tchefuncte (i.e., the disappearances of longdistance exchange, mound building and lapidary industry, and the appearance of pottery). On the other hand, McGimsey emphasizes temporal continuity and geographic relationships by searching for the origins of Marksville in earlier periods and as far afield as Ohio. In discussing Marksville, McGimsey heroically takes on the widespread problem of a single term being used to represent a site, period, phase, culture, mortuary tradition, and /or ceramic style (see also Chapter 11). Lee's chapter traces the transformation of Troyville and Baytown from "good, gray cultures" (Williams, The Eastern United States, in The National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, Themes II and III: Early Indian Farmers and Village Communities, edited by Haag, pp. 397-325) to interesting and important moments of growth and change. Finally, Roe and Schilling discuss how the recent flurry of research on Coles Creek has dramatically changed our perception of the culture and its relationships to temporally and spatially proximate cultures. Like the authors of the other Woodland chapters, they emphasize the need to refine chronologies and investigate nonmound sites.

Chapters 10 and 11 finish the discussion of Louisiana prehistory. Rees focuses on the relationship between Plaquemine and Mississippian and, in so doing, discusses the importance of moving away from culture-historical approaches toward a focus on the "actions and interactions of individuals and groups" (p.

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