Determining the Season of Mississippian House Construction from Plant Impressions in Daub

By Seltzer, Jennifer L.; Peacock, Evan | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Determining the Season of Mississippian House Construction from Plant Impressions in Daub


Seltzer, Jennifer L., Peacock, Evan, Southeastern Archaeology


Research into the domestic architecture of prehistoric groups in eastern North America is becoming more commonplace, and such work has implications for understanding settlement patterns, site seasonality, occupational duration, and social organization (Lacquement 2007; Rogers 1995; Smith 1995; Warrick 1988). As is true of many other aspects of Southeastern archaeology, however, many normative assumptions are derived from ethnohistory (e.g., the summer house/winter house dichotomy: Brennan 2007:76; Conner 1985; Faulkner 1977; Gougeon 2007; HaUy 2002; Hatch 1995; Pauketat 1989; Reed 2007; Rogers 1995:22; Romans 1999:127; Schroedel 1986; Scott 2007; Smith 1978, 1995; Sullivan 1995, 2007), and such assumptions may discourage the exploration of variability in house construction seasons and building techniques across space and through time (Knight 2007). House construction involved behavior that reasonably can be assumed to have been under strong selection in an evolutionary sense. Cataloging variability is important if we are to understand differential patterns of persistence and change in architecture and settlement patterns.

Assessing the season of construction for wattle-anddaub houses is possible due to the presumably incidental inclusion of leaves, seeds, and other plant materials in clay used for daub (Peacock 1993). In this article, we briefly review previous daub and faunal studies in the mid-South to examine the hypothesis of late fall/early winter abandonment of Mississippian farmsteads and consequent population aggregation at mound centers. We offer evidence from daub that a Mississippian house at the Lyon's Bluff site (22OK520), a mound and village complex in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, was constructed in early to mid-spring. These and other data suggest that house construction at Lyon's Bluff was not a season-specific activity. Our results emphasize the importance of using daub impressions for seasonality studies, providing a rationale for retention and more intensive analysis of this commonly disregarded material.

Daub Analysis in Archaeology

Relative to other classes of material remains, daub has received little analytical attention in North American archaeology. Most studies involve trying to understand methods of house construction and particular architectural features (e.g., the papers in Lacquement 2007; Childress et al. 1994; Connaway 1984; Mainfort 2005; Morse and Morse 1983:262-263; Peacock 1995; Perino 1966; Phillips 2001; Polhemus 1975; Sherard 2009; Starr 1997, 2002; Starr and Mainfort 1999:6; Stevens 2006; Terrei and Marland 1983), and this is true in other countries as well (e.g., Shaffer 1999). The use of daub as a paleoenvironmental data source has been particularly limited, although the application has been suggested at times (e.g., Connaway 1984:136, 140; Peacock 2008:89; Phillips 2000:51). Caddell (1982) noted the impressions of acorns and a stiff-spined cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) in daub from the Yarborough site (22CL814), a Mississippian farmstead in Clay County, Mississippi. Starr (1997:95) also noted a cocklebur cast in daub from the Powell Bayou site (22SU516) in Sunflower County, Mississippi, as evidence of a disturbed local environment.

A pilot study using daub impressions explicitly for paleoenvironmental modefing was undertaken by Peacock (1993), who analyzed specimens from a farmstead site (220K694) and Lyon's Bluff, a mound center, both in the Black Prairie physiographic province of eastern Mississippi. Both assemblages were dominated by deciduous species: specific taxa represented as leaf impressions (e.g., Peacock 1993:Figure 2) at one or the other site included willow oak (Quercus phellos), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), elm (Ulmus americana), hackberry (Celtis laevigata), and rattan vine (Berchemia scandens). Pine (Pinus echinata, P. taeda) also was represented. Reese (2000; Peacock and Reese 2003) intensively analyzed a large sample of daub from the Yarborough site, reporting impressions of willow oak, water oak (Quercus nigra), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), rough-leaf dogwood (Cornus drummondiï), hackberry, honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), black locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia), and cocklebur. …

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