Light on the Path: The Anthropology and History of the Southeastern Indians

By Gougeon, Ramie A. | Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Light on the Path: The Anthropology and History of the Southeastern Indians


Gougeon, Ramie A., Southeastern Archaeology


Light on the Path: The Anthropology and History of the Southeastern Indians. THOMAS J. PLUCKHAHN and ROBBIE ETHRIDGE (eds.). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2006. xi + 283 pp., biblio., illus., index. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-5287-2.

Reviewed by Ramie A. Gougeon

Light on the Path, edited by Tom Pluckhahn and Robbie Ethridge, is an assemblage of papers written in honor of Charles Hudson by some of his students and colleagues, providing an overview of the insights to be gained through interactions between the archaeological and historical communities.

This collection of ten papers is an assortment of largely ethnohistorical/historical and archaeological research on Southeastern Indians of the protohistoric and early historic periods. Pluckhahn, Ethridge, Jerald Milanich, and Marvin Smith penned an excellent introduction, charting the intellectual course of Hudson's long career. The introduction also serves to introduce the uninitiated to the Annales school of history. The approach championed by followers of this paradigm shift in historical research is well summarized here, and is a thread common to the papers in the volume.

David Hally's chapter outlines what the social and political landscape of the late prehistoric Southeast looked like at the point of European contact. This is more than just a summary of archaeological thought; it is a snapshot of a continuing program of research by an outstanding scholar in the field. Hally describes his current understanding of several broad topics, including the nature of middle-range polities, warfare, chiefdom decline, settlement patterning, and population control. The influence of the ecological anthropology program at the University of Georgia becomes apparent in his exploration of "hierarchical patch dynamics," but this smacks more of finding a name for ideas he and other Southeastern archaeologists have been developing for decades. I, for one, prefer his alternative name for his approach and his findings: regional system perspective.

Mark Williams and Scott Jones offer a brief exposition regarding a "commensal relationship between humans and beavers." While the idea is perhaps easily dismissed on the surface, Williams and Jones offer some compelling archaeological and historical evidence to explain why the Oconee Valley of the central Georgia Piedmont had such a diffuse settlement pattern at European contact and why flintknapping apparently ceased two centuries before this time. They argue that beavers, as a keystone species, created landscapes and resource sinks that became part of Mississippian ecological adaptations. It will be interesting to see if Southeastern archaeologists further explore their ideas about cultural adaptation to what were widespread and common features of the North American landscape.

In a change from perhaps more obvious explorations of changes between the late prehistoric and early historic periods, Adam King considers continuities in societal and economic elements between Late Mississippian populations of the southern Appalachian region and early Creek Indian towns. King relies on a dualprocessual theory first developed for pre-state level societies in Mesoamerica, which while perhaps abused and reified in the Southwest, may yet have value in the Southeast if applied judiciously.

Stephen Kowalewski presents an ethnographic exploration of the concept of "coalescent societies" as a means of determining the range of methods of reorganizing social and political organizations in the aftermath of population collapse and in the face of external pressure. By showing that coalescent societies have appeared at different times and places globally, he emphasizes the idea the this is not a "societal type" to be reified and turned into a label, much as "chiefdom" has in the literature of Southeastern archaeology. Kowalewski lists commonly occurring responses involved in coalescence, all or nearly all of which should have archaeological signatures, that is to say, material correlates that can be examined through archaeological research. …

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