Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Oyster Demographics and the Creation of Coastal Monuments at Roberts Island Mound Complex, Florida

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Oyster Demographics and the Creation of Coastal Monuments at Roberts Island Mound Complex, Florida

Article excerpt

Like the earthen mounds that appear across Eastern North America, shell constructions of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas may also represent monumental undertakings. Archaic and Woodland period sites have displayed evidence for the deliberate planning and construction of shell-bearing features such as mounds and rings (Pluckhahn et al. 2010; Randall and Sassaman 2010; Russo 1994, 2004; Saunders 2004; Thompson and Pluckhahn 2010). Generally, mollusk remains have gained increasing attention as a construction material utilized by coastal and riverine people in the southeastern U.S. and elsewhere in the world (e.g., Fish et al. 2013; Gaspar et al. 2008).

Building with shell has uniquely interesting implications when compared with constructing earthen mounds. The use of subsistence remains in construction affects how we understand the role of labor in mound building. While archaeologists have looked to labor costs as one way to understand monumental construction (Trigger 1990), at shell mounds, the collection and processing of construction material can be expected to result from foraging for consumption purposes. Design and construction may still be separate instances of labor, but the entire process is more explicitly integrated with consumption. The resulting features may actually have advertised that feasting helped to create them (Dietler and Hayden 2001:9). The monumentality of some shell-dense features has been contested in part on the basis that they may not always have required substantial or organized labor. Notably, William Marquardt (2010) has argued that gradual, everyday accumulations of midden including the remains of shellfish consumption can produce deposits like those which are often interpreted as ceremonial constructions and/or the results of feasting. Marquardt highlights the importance of identifying whether particular shell-dense deposits resulted from any additional labor beyond what was prudent for survival, and in cases where ecological circumstances seem to explain the prominence of shellfish resources, he suggests that certain massive shell deposits are more appropriately termed midden than mound (Marquardt 2010:559). There are some cases where more nuanced classifications than mound versus midden are appropriate; for instance, some shell-dense features or mounds may have developed gradually before becoming ceremonially important (Thompson 2007). However, even when mound construction is planned, practices like food consumption and deposition may have gained additional social significance through their association with the construction of prominent features on the landscape. Shell mound sites thus provide opportunities to investigate links among procurement, consumption, feasting, and construction.

The west-central Gulf coast of Florida is an exciting place to explore the intersections of monumentality and subsistence that emerge in the context of shell mound construction (Figure i). The Middle Woodland site of Crystal River (8CI1) includes flat-topped mounds, a burial complex, a plaza, a swath of occupation midden, and a few less-well defined mounds. Following C.B. Moore's expeditions to the site in the early 1900s, Crystal River's flat-topped mounds and Hopewell artifacts came to perplex archaeologists who understood "temple mounds" to be an exclusively Mississippian phenomenon; at the same time, theories of Mesoamerican links abounded (Pluckhahn et al. 2010). Since 2008, the Crystal River Early Village Archaeology Project (CREVAP), led by Thomas Pluckhahn, Victor Thompson, and Brent Weisman, has clarified the history of this site, emphasizing the chronology of its use and occupation, as well as the degree of planning involved in the construction of the mounds (Pluckhahn et al. 2010; Pluckhahn and Thompson 2014; Pluckhahn et al. 2015a; Pluckhahn et al. 2015b). Ongoing research is focused on the contributions of community and competition to Crystal River as a village and ceremonial site.

Roberts Island Shell Mound Complex (Weisman 1995) is an anthropogenic shell island encompassing several archaeological sites (8CI36, 8CI37, 8CI39, 8CI40, and 8CI41). …

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