Dating the Construction of Early Late Woodland Earthen Monuments at the Jackson Landing Site in Coastal Mississippi

Article excerpt

Middle Woodland and early Late Woodland monuments generally have been interpreted as ceremonial spaces that integrated communities both within and among regions. This article presents information on the early Late Woodland component at the Jackson Landing site, a large site with a platform mound and semicircular earthwork, located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Earlier research is synthesized with more recent investigations of the mound to argue that the site's monuments were built during the early Late Woodland period between approximately A.D. 400 to 700. Determining when Jackson Landing's monuments were built is important because their construction provides a temporal baseline for regional and, perhaps, interregional social integration along the central Gulf Coast.

The construction and use of various kinds of earthen monuments during the Middle Woodland (ca 100 B.C.A.D. 400) and early Late Woodland (A.D. 400-700) periods indicates that the nature and scale of public ritual changed significantly in many societies across the Eastern Woodlands. Links between Woodland period earthen monuments and ritual activity indicate that conical mounds often marked the locations of mortuary rituals, linear earthworks defined the spaces in which rituals occurred, and platform mounds served as elevated stages upon which communal rituals were performed (Anderson and Mainfort 2002; Knight 2001; Mainfort and Sullivan 1998; Steponaitis 1986). The construction of earthen monuments near the mouth of the Pearl River in coastal Mississippi at the Jackson Landing site suggests that significant changes in the scale of public ritual occurred along the central Gulf Coast during the early Late Woodland period. Jackson Landing consists of an approximately 24-ha (60-acre) area that includes a large shell midden, a 1.5-m-tall platform mound, and a semicircular earthwork that is 460 m long and over 4 m tall in places (Figure 1). Jackson Landing is easily one of the largest and most significant archaeological sites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

A fundamental step toward understanding the history of this important site, and possibly the appearance of significant changes in the scale of public ritual and social integration in the region, is establishing a site-wide chronology for the construction of Jackson Landing's earthwork and platform mound. This article uses published and unpublished information from several field projects at Jackson Landing to present an archaeological overview of the site and to date the construction of its earthen monuments. While it has been demonstrated that the site's semicircular earthwork was at least partially built during the Woodland period (Williams 1987), it was not clear exactly when its construction began. Also, although the mound was assumed to be Woodland in origin as well, information about its construction was unavailable because it had never been tested (Blitz and Mann 2000:40; Lewis 1988:115). This article addresses these gaps in our current understanding of Jackson Landing's chronology by synthesizing archaeological information from unpublished investigations of the platform mound (Boudreaux 2009) and linear earthwork (Giardino and Jones 1996) and published information about the earthwork (Williams 1987). The data considered, or reconsidered, here indicate that Jackson Landing's platform mound and earthwork were built during the early Late Woodland period ca. A.D. 400-700.

Determining when the monuments at Jackson Landing were built has important implications for various topics of future research. One is to relate the developmental history of the Jackson Landing site to those of other Woodland period centers in the region. Similarities among Jackson Landing and Middle Woodland sites in the Midsouth and lower Mississippi Valley regarding the form and arrangement of monuments have been noted for some time (Blitz and Mann 2000:40-41; Williams 1987:61), and these similarities may indicate that Jackson Landing's construction was influenced by ideas about ceremony and ritual shared broadly across the Eastern Woodlands (Anderson and Mainfort 2002:10-13; Carr and Case 2005; Cobb and Nassaney 2002; Knight 2001:313; Mainfort and Sullivan 1998:4; Steponaitis 1986:379; Thunen 1988). …