Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Content, Context

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Content, Context

Article excerpt

Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Content, Context. ADAM KING (ed.). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2007. xv + 305 pp., illus., tables, biblio., index. $42.50 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-5409-3; $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-8173-1554-3.

Reviewed by Jeffrey P. Brain

The promotional blurb on the back cover claims that the contents of this book "correct dating errors in other publications" (Marvin T. Smith), the repeatedly mentioned reference, of course, being Shell Gorgets (Brain and Phillips 1996). To be fair, as is indicated by the title, Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Content, Context ranges widely into other concerns, as well, but chronology is a central issue and is the main point of discussion between us so will be the focus of the following comments. Please note that my use of the first person plural refers to the publication while additional commentary in this review is obviously my own. The chapters are discussed in order.

King's introduction makes it clear that Shell Gorgets was the burr under the saddle that led to this book: "The goal of this volume ... is a response to the [chronological] debate renewed by the publication of Shell Gorgets by Brain and Phillips.... These contributions provide a different interpretation of many of the same data sets considered by Brain and Phillips" (p. 14). So he has mustered many of the best and the brightest to do battle, those "scholars intimately familiar with those data sets" (p. 13). Having accepted the challenge, let's examine their arguments.

Jon Muller leads the parade with his "Prolegomena." He, of course, does not like our gorget styles, although they are every bit as well defined and viable as his, and perhaps even more useful (see Hally's chapter). But that is another matter beyond the focus of discussion here. We agree that SECC or Cult "is just one central and particularly spectacular episode in a long series of cultural events associated with Mississippian and other late prehistoric groups from A.D. 800 on" (p. 20); we disagree, of course, in the dating of this "mainstream" or "classic" Southern Cult "to the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (ca.1250 C.E. in uncorrected radiocarbon years)." In a sweeping but undocumented statement, he asserts the conventional wisdom that his "assessment of the dating is not based only on associations at a few major sites like Spiro and Cahokia but rather on archaeological evidence and dates from many sites across the East" (ibid.). His only specific attempt to justify this chronology is to co-opt an average date of A.D. 1248 (range 1155-1760) from Mud Glyph Cave (p. 28) where the drawing of a crude stick figure is compared with the sophisticated Castalian Springs gorget of the Eddyville style (Fig. 2.5). In his support of this dating he revisits the old business of the heirlooming factor, as well as the red herring that demonstrably late materials, such as rattlesnake gorgets, have nothing to do with "classic" Cult-which is of course true. We recognize and clearly trace stylistic evolution and therefore we agree that the styles are not all contemporaneous, but there are those (which have overlapping occurrences) that define the classic Cult horizon ca. 1400-1550. His discussion of the relative temporal (which is not to be confused with absolute chronological) and regional distributions-and stylistic connections-of these artifacts echo almost precisely what we say. His statement that our homogeneous burial assemblages "are too broad and diverse, and whole sites are often treated as though they had only short-term, homogeneous occupations" (p. 34) is simply not true: We restricted the concept to tightly defined contexts within sites which we fully recognized could have much longer occupations. Curiously, he allows that the few engraved shell pieces from Cahokia "are associated with the final phases of occupation rather than the peak of that social formation's political and social development" (p. …

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