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Overview

The rapid growth and development of urban areas in the South have resulted in an increase in the number of urban archaeology projects required by federal and state agencies. These projects provide opportunities not only to investigate marginal areas between the town and countryside but also to recover information long buried beneath the earliest urban structures. Such projects have also created a need for a one-volume update on archaeology as it is practiced in the urban areas of the southeastern United States.

Archaeology of Southern Urban Landscapes will assist practitioners and scholars in the burgeoning fields of urban and landscape archaeology by treating the South as a distinctive social, geographic, and material entity and by focusing on the urban South rather than the stereotypical South of rural plantations. The case studies in this volume span the entire southeastern United States, from Annapolis to New Orleans and from colonial times to the 19th century. The authors address questions involving the function of cities, interregional diversity, the evolution of the urban landscape, and the impact of the urban landscape on southern culture. By identifying the relationship between southern culture and the South's urban landscapes, this book will help us understand the built landscape of the past and predict future growth in the region.

The volume includes:
 

Introduction: Urban Archaeology in the South, Amy L. Young
 

Southern Town Plans, Storytelling, and Historical Archaeology, Linda Derry
 

Mobile's Waterfront: The Development of a Port City, Bonnie L. Gums and George W. Shorter Jr.
 

Urbanism in the Colonial South: The Development of Seventeenth-Century Jamestown, Audrey J. Horning
 

Archaeology at Covington, Kentucky: A Particularly "Northern-looking" Southern City, Robert A. Genheimer
 

Charleston's Powder Magazine and the Development of a Southern City, Martha A. Zierden
 

Archaeology and the African-American Experience in the Urban South, J. W. Joseph
 

Ethnicity in the Urban Landscape: The Archaeology of Creole New Orleans, Shannon Lee Dawdy
 

Developing Town Life in the South: Archaeological Investigations at Blount Mansion, Amy L. Young
 

The Making of the Ancient City: Annapolis in the Antebellum Era, Christopher N. Matthews
 

Urban Archaeology in Tennessee: Exploring the Cities of the Old South, Patrick H. Garrow
 

Archaeological Views of Southern Culture and Urban Life, Paul R. Mullins and Terry H. Klein

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This volume is a good source of case study research that makes available for the first time a broad array of information on historical archaeology in an urban setting. As the first book on the historical archaeology of Southern cities, it will find a wide readership from the field to classrooms."
—Judy Bense, University of West Florida
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817310301
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy L. Young is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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Read an Excerpt

Archaeology of Southern Urban Landscapes


By Amy L. Young

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2000 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1030-1



CHAPTER 1

Southern Town Plans, Storytelling, and Historical Archaeology

Linda Derry


In this chapter, landscape is viewed as self-narrative. An example from Cahawba, in central Alabama, illustrates how, over a span of 50 years, a group of antebellum slaveholders created and re-created a town plan to tell a series of self- validating stories. These stories, though long buried and forgotten, are recoverable through a contextualized, interpretive archaeology. This approach borrows its theoretical underpinnings from three separate but related fields: anthropology, archaeology, and landscape geography.

Interpretive anthropology contains the historical basis for this approach and is most closely associated with Clifford Geertz (Borofsky 1994:24–27). Geertz (1973:5) advocated the idea that "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun." Therefore the analysis of culture should be an interpretive search for meaning. In interpretive anthropology, emphasis is placed not on verification but on contextualization. The anthropologist/ethnographer understands an observed behavior by referencing it to a larger context. "The aim is not to uncover universal laws but rather to explicate context" (Rabinow and Sullivan 1987:14). For example, after Geertz studied the context of cockfighting in Bali, he concluded that its function was interpretive. Balinese cockfighting "is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience, a story they tell themselves about themselves" (Geertz 1973:448).

Geertz provided the essential approach used in this chapter, but one should note that other archaeologists—most notably, historical archaeologists—have successfully borrowed approaches from interpretive anthropology (Beaudry 1988, 1990, 1993; Yentsch 1988a, 1988b, 1990). In fact, Ian Hodder went so far as to define archaeology's own version of interpretive anthropology, appropriately calling it "interpretive archaeology" (1991:7–18). Hodder outlined a very complex, detailed hermeneutic approach, but reducing it to its essential character, he wrote that "interpretive archaeology is about constructing narratives, or telling stories," especially stories told at a human scale from the viewpoints of the actors (1991:13).

Interestingly, cultural geographers have also borrowed a theoretical approach from interpretive anthropology. Most importantly for this study's purposes, they applied it directly to the concept of landscape (Yamin and Metheny 1996a:xv). For example, geographer James Duncan, in his study of the royal capital of Kandy in the highlands of Sri Lanka, has effectively shown that landscape is "one of the central elements in a cultural system" and is used by people to "tell morally charged stories about themselves, the social relations within their community, and their relations to a divine order." Duncan writes that landscapes are particularly effective objectifiers of ideology because they can make what is patently cultural appear as if it were natural (1990:17–20). Along the same lines, the geographer/anthropologist team of Lester Rowntree and Margaret Conkey used an interpretive approach to landscape to show that some landscape symbols "validate, if not actually define, social claims to space and time" (1980:459). They also constructed a processual model that links changes in environmental symbolism to changes in cultural stress (1980:459–474).

The following study borrows from the above-mentioned works. Just as Duncan, a geographer, in a tribute to Geertz, an anthropologist, described landscape as a story people tell themselves about themselves (Geertz 1973:448; Duncan 1990:19), investigations at Cahawba use a contextualized historical archaeology to uncover the story behind an early Southern town plan. A "morally charged story" is discovered and validated by moving back and forth among a number of diverse categories of evidence—archaeological features, historic speeches, poems, maps, art, and even ethnic jokes—until a coherent and adequate explanation is constructed. Historical archaeology also reveals how this highly symbolic structure was actually imposed upon the land, and how, under stressful conditions, this cultural creation was maintained and/or modified over time.

However, before these narratives can be constructed, some background information is presented. First, the general nature of town plans on the Southern frontier is discussed so that the appropriateness of the interpretive approach can be appreciated. Then a brief summary of the specific archaeological example is provided.


Southern Town Plans

The popular notion of the rapidly expanding Southern frontier is one of isolated plantations. However, from the very beginning, towns, not plantations, led the way and shaped the structure of Southern society (Reps 1981:3–4). True, many of the early settlers purchased their land from the federal government by quarter sections, cleared and worked the land, and over many years developed profitable farms or plantations. However, a sizable number of enterprising men sought a quicker return on their investment. After purchasing their land from the federal government, they quickly drew up a town plat, subdivided, and resold individual town lots at greatly inflated prices.

In 1818 a newspaper article about this trend was reprinted in many papers from Richmond to Nashville:

There is an astonishing rage at the present day for the establishment of new towns. Does a man possess a tract of land convenient to river navigation, if he be a man of enterprise, he starts the plan of a town—lays off his land into lots, and expects to make his fortune by selling out.... It is in this way that towns are springing up in every thriving section of the country; some of them generated by the spirit of improvement, but others, it is to be apprehended, by that of speculation. (Nashville Whig and Tennessee Advocate, 20 September 1818)


Southern frontier towns were being established as planned communities from the start. The town planners' true intent was not to provide a design that would serve as a useful functional framework for future growth. Instead, they were creating "paper towns," pretty plats or maps designed primarily to attract land speculators. For example, in 1810, when a group of private investors was discussing the creation of the town now known as Huntsville, Alabama, they instructed their surveyor, John Coffee, to "lay off the Town in such a manner, or such form as you ... shall think proper.... [but] Do let the plan of the town be as dashing as possible" (Chappell 1961:185–186). The paper town phenomenon was certainly not limited to just Huntsville and its group of investors. The widespread nature of this trend was described in a poem called "Southern Speculations," which was printed in several newspapers across the country in 1818. The following is an excerpt from the poem (Mobile [Ala.] Gazette and reprinted in the Dayton [Ohio] Watchman, on 11 June 1818):

    Town making, now is quite a trade,
    Of which the rules are ready made:
    Thus when a sport is intended,
    If these ingredients be blended,
    It cannot but succeed ...

    The most important point perhaps,
    Lies in the drawing of the maps;
    The painter there must try
    By mingling yellow, red and green,
    To make the most delightful scene,
    That ever met the eye ...

    Tis when the rage is at its height,
    That knowing ones will quit the site,
    Whilst those that stop behind
    Of this desertion can't complain,
    For what they lose in wealth they gain
    In knowledge of mankind ...


If early-19th-century town planners considered "dashing" and "delightful" as their ultimate achievements, they obviously cared little for the functional practicality of the actual physical town. So, historical archaeologists will benefit little from a strictly functional approach when studying these landscapes. Instead, a geographic model that views landscape as a cultural creation with symbolic aspects would be more appropriate (Rowntree and Conkey 1980). Considering the nature of the subject, an interpretive approach in search of meaning is well suited to a study of these antebellum Southern town plans on the frontier.


The Archaeological Example: Old Cahawba, Alabama

Cahawba was definitely a product of the paper town phenomenon of the early 19th century. By the time Cahawba's town plan was being considered, the federal land offices had responded to speculative fever in the Old Southwest by modifying the way they sold public land. In addition to the sale of quarter sections and sections, they added something new to their repertoire. The most desirable potential townsites in the Alabama Territory were selected, town plats drawn, and then individual lots auctioned off by the U.S. Land Office itself (Peters 1846:375, 467). The government was hoping to cut out the middleman and divert the inflated profits from the pockets of private speculators into the coffers of the U.S. Treasury (Nesbit 1970:300). Cahawba was quickly chosen as a "most eligible Site for a Town" by federal surveyors in 1817 (Carter 1952:259, 336).

Shortly thereafter, Alabama's fledgling territorial government challenged this scheme. Alabama's governor, William Wyatt Bibb, asked that this undeveloped townsite be given outright to Alabama for use as a seat of government. Bibb knew about the inflated profits associated with these new towns. His plan was to divert the lot buyers' money from the federal treasury into the treasury of the new state of Alabama. His plan worked: Cahawba became Alabama's first official state capital. But Cahawba was just another paper town, so before it could actually function as a state capital, it had to be carved—literally—out of the wilderness. In fact, Alabama's legislature had to meet in Huntsville for an entire year until Cahawba's plan could be surveyed, streets cleared, lots sold, and some temporary structures built (Brantley 1947).

Cahawba functioned as Alabama's state capital from 1820 to 1826 and later became a thriving antebellum river town. At the town's zenith in the late 1850s, population estimates varied between 3,000 to 6,000 people, but shortly after the Civil War the town was abandoned. By the turn of the century many of Cahawba's buildings had burned or collapsed; many more had been dismantled, moved, and reassembled in nearby Selma. Today only two historic structures remain standing at Cahawba. Still, it is a place of picturesque ruins and an important archaeological site.

In 1979 a group of citizens organized themselves as "Cahawba Concern" and set out to draw the public's attention to the plight of Alabama's first capital. Years of hard work led to legislative support for Cahawba, and today the Alabama Historical Commission, a state agency, is developing an archaeological park at the site. Thanks to volunteer work, private donations, and help from the Archaeological Conservancy, 200 acres of the old site are currently protected as a state-owned archaeological park. Efforts to acquire more of the site continue, but chances are slim that Cahawba's supporters will ever be able to save the entire square mile that the town once occupied.

The "Save Cahawba" movement has placed an emphasis on preservation rather than excavation, so archaeological investigations at Cahawba have been very limited in scope. The Alabama Anthropological Society camped at the site for two days in 1919 and searched east and south of the old town for Casiste, a village visited by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto (Brannon Collection 1919: Selma Times Journal 1919). In 1977, a four-page archaeological assessment of a proposed boat ramp was done for the Corps of Engineers by archaeologist David Chase, who also conducted a limited archaeological evaluation of a proposed park plan in 1982. Both investigations relied heavily on surface collections, but a few small test units were scattered throughout the old townsite. Chase concluded that human occupation of Cahawba predated the historic townsite by at least four thousand years. In test units placed along the bank of the Alabama River, he also discovered a Woodland occupation ("White Oak Culture") and evidence for a late Mississippian settlement ("Pensacola Culture") that "could have been occupied at the time of DeSoto in 1540" (Chase 1982:28).

In 1986, after acquiring the 24 acres of land at Cahawba on which to begin development of park facilities, the Alabama Historical Commission hired a historical archaeologist, the present author, to oversee the development of the park. The need to avoid archaeologically significant areas in the placement of park facilities had to be immediately addressed. Using the historic town grid as a guide, 2½-ft. test units were place systematically every 40 ft. across the center of the old town plan. The purpose was to locate and assess the integrity of archaeological resources within the area slated for development, and to use that information to work with architects in the development of park plans.

That summer, halfway through this process, a four-person crew was joined by the Expedition program from the Alabama State Museum of Natural History. The Expedition program, organized by educator John Hall, brought a large number of precollegiate students and teachers to Cahawba to work under the supervision of the author (National Geographic World Magazine 1987:19–23). Some of the original test units were expanded to investigate specific areas. For example, one was enlarged to locate the original site of a Gothic Revival church that had been moved to another town about 1878. Other units were enlarged to investigate a feature on the statehouse lot and to assess apparently intact prehistoric features beneath an old porch foundation. In addition to these systematically placed test units, a segmented trench was dug along a 55-ft. transect to confirm the suspected location of a Civil War prison site. By matching various wall and stockade lines shown in an official Confederate diagram to in-ground features, the prison location was confirmed. This shallow 2½-ft.-wide trench also revealed the nature of the raised earthen floor inside the prison's brick walls (see Figure 1.1). Historical accounts document that several Union soldiers tried to dig their way out through this raised earthen floor, but none seemed to suspect what modern archaeology revealed: that this dirt floor began its life as the lowest soil layers in a large Mississippian Indian mound (Hawes 1888:128; Tod 1951:342).

During this testing program, other unexpected patterns emerged. The Historical Commission archaeologists quickly discovered that the Mississippian occupation extended far back from the riverbank. Surprisingly, many features from this prehistoric era remained intact below the 19th-century deposits. The distribution of late-Mississippian artifacts was widespread but oddly seemed to be contained within the semicircle that was once labeled "Arch Street" on maps of Alabama's first capital city (Figure 1.2). Outside this semicircle, virtually no aboriginal artifacts were recovered. This semicircle was no longer apparent in the landscape and did not appear on more recent maps, but when projected on the current landscape using survey equipment, it seemed to precisely limit the western and southern edges of the distribution of Mississippian artifacts. The Alabama River defined the east limit of the aboriginal occupation of this site. The north edge of the site was unavailable, at that time, for testing. Based on these observations, a testable inference was formulated: the abrupt semicircular boundary of the artifact distribution indicates the location of an ancient barrier or wall, probably a palisade around a large Mississippian village.

Help to test this assumption was not hard to find. The Alabama DeSoto Commission was gearing up to celebrate the 450th anniversary of its namesake's trek through the state. The most sought-after de Soto site was Mabila, and DePratter, Hudson, and Smith had just published the conclusion that "Mabila could not have been many miles west or southwest of Selma, and was probably on the Lower Cahaba River" (1985:123). Since the townsite of Cahawba was located just eight miles southwest of Selma at the mouth of the Cahaba River, a short presentation of the summer's findings at a DeSoto Commission meeting was all it took to gain their support.

In January 1987 the DeSoto Commission funded excavations under the supervision of Dr. Vernon James Knight of the University of Alabama. Dr. Knight's crew excavated a test trench 5 ft. wide and 40 ft. long and found evidence not only of a palisade but also of an aboriginal fortification ditch or dry moat on the exterior side of the palisade. This crew also reopened an area where the intact Pensacola features and midden were previously found (Knight 1987). Then, later that year, another crew from the University of Alabama, a field school under the direction of Dr. Richard Krause, returned to Cahawba and placed another 30-ft. test trench across the fortification ditch (Martin 1989).

In total, outside the initial 2-ft. test units, only five excavation units were opened: two 40-ft. trenches across the aboriginal fortification ditch, a 55-ft. segmented trench across the walls associated with the Civil War prison, a small block excavation at the site of an old church, and another small block excavation in a late-Mississippian domestic area. Despite the limited scope of these excavations, the nature of Cahawba's entire original town plan and the structural changes that occurred during the life span of the town were revealed. In fact, most of this evidence can be found in two of the test trenches (see Figure 1.1). This small amount of archaeological evidence about the forgotten landscape, when placed within a web of other contextual historical information, can tell not one, but a series of morally charged stories about the antebellum social order.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Archaeology of Southern Urban Landscapes by Amy L. Young. Copyright © 2000 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

List of Figures and Tables,
Acknowledgments,
Introduction: Urban Archaeology in the South Amy L. Young,
1 - Southern Town Plans, Storytelling, and Historical Archaeology Linda Derry,
2 - Mobile's Waterfront: The Development of a Port City Bonnie L. Gums and George W. Shorter, Jr.,
3 - Urbanism in the Colonial South: The Development of Seventeenth-Century Jamestown Audrey J. Horning,
4 - Archaeology at Covington, Kentucky: A Particularly "Northern-looking" Southern City Robert A. Genheimer,
5 - Charleston's Powder Magazine and the Development of a Southern City Martha A. Zierden,
6 - Archaeology and the African-American Experience in the Urban South J. W. Joseph,
7 - Ethnicity in the Urban Landscape: The Archaeology of Creole New Orleans Shannon Lee Dawdy,
8 - Developing Town Life in the South: Archaeological Investigations at Blount Mansion Amy L. Young,
9 - The Making of the Ancient City: Annapolis in the Antebellum Era Christopher N. Matthews,
10 - Urban Archaeology in Tennessee: Exploring the Cities of the Old South Patrick H. Garrow,
11 - Archaeological Views of Southern Culture and Urban Life Paul R. Mullins and Terry H. Klein,
References,
Index,
Contributors,

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