The Incorporation of Mississippian Traditions into Fort Ancient Societies: A Preliminary View of the Shift to Shell-Tempered Pottery Use in the Middle Ohio Valley

Article excerpt

Shell-tempered pottery is a common occurrence in late prehistoric assemblages from the southeastern and midwestern United States. The use of shell temper in the middle Ohio Valley began during the Late Woodland period (ca. A.D. 800) but was not common until Fort Ancient times (ca. A.D. 1000-1650). Initially, shell was mixed with other tempering agents, but between ca. A.D. 1300 and 1500 it became the primary temper form, during a time of clear and region-wide Mississippian/Fort Ancient interaction. Assessing whether or not the Fort Ancient shift to use of shell tempering was associated with these Mississippian interactions is the subject of this paper, in which we combine petrographic analyses at a selection of western Fort Ancient sites with data pertaining to specific social contexts within a single village. A working hypothesis is offered that this temper type was initially mixed with local nonshell tempers alongside other Mississippian characteristics being combined with local traditions (e.g., wall trenches incorporated into post houses) throughout the study region, focused on the Miami-Ohio River confluence area of the middle Ohio Valley. In a well-defined social context in one village, the movement of nonlocal shell-tempered vessels is associated with a village wide leader (and possibly green corn ceremonialism) during a time of increased network strategies of cultural integration across the Fort Ancient region.


Recent research on the structure of late prehistoric Mississippian societies of the southeastern United States has identified considerable social and material variability in associated assemblages and site plans (e.g., Cobb 2003). A variety of mechanisms have been offered to account for the onset of common Mississippian characteristics such as sheU-tempered pottery and waU trench housing, which were incorporated into many regions between ca. A.D. 900 and 1400. In particular, the spread of these items has rekindled interest in theories regarding migration and ethnic identity formation (e.g., Alt 2001, 2006; Bhtz 1993; Blitz and Lorenz 2002, 2006; Cobb 2005; Cobb and Butler 2002, 2006; Delaney-Rivera 2004; Emerson and Hargrave 2000; King 2003; Pauketat 2003, 2007; Price et al. 2007) in addition to longstanding concerns with trade and the workings of peer interactions (e.g., Brown et al. 1990; Cook 2008; Stoltman, ed. 1991).

A wide variety of mterpretations regarding the roles of Mississippians and local Late Woodland cultures in the formation of Fort Ancient have been offered, ranging from migration (e.g., Griffin 1943; Prüfer and Shane 1970) to in situ development (e.g., PoUack and Henderson 1992, 2000) and various "middle ground" scenarios (Cook 2008; Essenpreis 1978; Robertson 1980; see Cook 2008 for a general summary). Coincident with the broader trend, there has been renewed interest in Mississippian interactions as one of the important factors in the formation of Fort Ancient social identities (Cook 2008), and in general Fort Ancient studies have begun addressing the incorporation of Mississippian architecture and artifacts in the region between A.D. 1300 and 1500 during a time of marked change in Mississippian society (Cook 2008; PoUack et al. 2002). Here we examine whether sheU-tempered pottery spread into western Fort Ancient viUages with other Mississippian characteristics, assessing historical connections rather than functional concerns (Feathers 2006). The goal of the present investigation was to build on an earlier study of the social context of shell pottery within a vUlage (Cook and Fargher 2007) through a preliminary regional study to locate source areas and identify interaction between vUlages as a larger social process. The intent is to further evaluate a Mississippian connection with Fort Ancient villages and to provide baseline data to be further examined with additional research into this complex problem.

Fort Ancient developed at similar times (ca. …


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