Rethinking Moundville and Its Hinterland

By Vincas P. Steponaitis; C. Margaret Steponaitis | Go to book overview

4
Mound X and Selective Forgetting
at Early Moundville

JOHN H. BLITZ

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against for-
getting.

—Milan Kundera (1999), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

In this chapter, I explore a social contradiction found in Mississippian and other emergent complex societies at times when political and social integration coalesced, formal offices of leadership were established, and mound-center polities were founded. Based on what is known about the forms of legitimization in nonstratified social formations (Friedman 1998; Leach 1954; Sahlins 1958), assertions of rank, status, and privilege by constituent corporate groups at Mississippian mound centers were probably closely tied to competing and contradictory claims about origins, landuse rights, descent, and events in the mythic past of ancestry (Anderson 1994: 87–93; Knight 1986; Peebles and Kus 1977). Certainly, such claims played an important role in the legitimization of elites among native southeastern peoples in the early historic period (Knight 1990). Therefore, archaeologists might expect that when large mound-center polities formed, materializations of the past such as pottery styles, house forms, and venerable monuments would be retained and promoted as valued ideological resources. Often, however, these traditional things were treated as cultural liabilities to be rejected, denied, and replaced with new styles, new forms, and new monuments. This tension between past and present, exacerbated by the inequality of corporate groups, generated social contradictions that could threaten the stability of the new political order. I propose that one way this contradiction was resolved in these societies was through acts of selective forgetting. I illustrate this proposed con-

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