Architectural Variability in the Southeast / Edition 2

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Some of the most visible expressions of human culture are illustrated architecturally. Unfortunately for archaeologists, the architecture being studied is not always visible and must be inferred from soil inconsistencies or charred remains. This study deals with research into roughly a millennium of Native American architecture in the Southeast and includes research on the variation of construction techniques employed both above and below ground. Most of the architecture discussed is that of domestic houses with some emphasis on large public buildings and sweat lodges. The authors use an array of methods and techniques in examining native architecture including experimental archaeology, ethnohistory, ethnography, multi-variant analysis, structural engineering, and wood science technology. A major portion of the work, and probably the most important in terms of overall significance, is that it addresses the debate of early Mississippian houses and what they looked like above ground and the changes that occurred both before and after the arrival of Europeans.
Dennis B. Blanton
Tamira K. Brennan
 Ramie A. Gougeon
Tom H. Gresham
Vernon J. Knight Jr.
 Cameron H. Lacquement
 Robert H. Lafferty, III
Mark A. McConaughy
Nelson A. Reed
 Robert J. Scott
Lynne P. Sullivan

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This volume will become a standard reference for Southeastern archaeologists by filling a void in our knowledge of Mississippian domestic architecture."
—Paul Welch, University of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

"Although archaeologists have been recording houses for decades, with the exception of the flexed pole/rigid pole debate, there has been until now no real focus on what the structures mean or what they can tell us about prehistoric cultures. By emphasizing the importance of domestic architecture, this volume lays the groundwork for adressing this neglected subject in Eastern archaeology."
—David Hally, University of Georgia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817354596
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2007
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Cameron H. Lacquement is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, The University of Alabama.

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Read an Excerpt

Architectural Variability in the Southeast


Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-1591-7

Chapter One

Introduction to Architectural Variability in the Southeast

Cameron H. Lacquement

Native (or indigenous) architecture throughout the world differs substantially in building styles, materials, and construction techniques. Varieties in architectural form are not only found among the different cultural, geographical, and temporal regions of the globe but within these regions as well. For instance, a survey of contemporary South African houses alone would show several forms of architecture including round, oval, square, and rectangular houses, with flexed, hipped, gabled, or conical roofs, or combinations of these roof styles (Biermann 1971; Denyer 1978; Frescura 1981; Guidoni 1975). Despite the differences in location, climate, and time, the intraregional variability found in contemporary South African houses is very similar to that of prehistoric houses of the southeastern United States. A variety of house shapes, including round, oval, square, rectangular, and cross- shaped, which are believed to represent a variety of construction techniques, have also been uncovered in the Southeast United States. The variability of architectural forms in the southeastern United States is the focus of this manuscript. The authors provide their research on thevariation of construction techniques in the Southeast United States concerning both above- ground and below- ground architectural analyses in order to investigate the various structural forms in this region.

Through the study of architectural remains, the archaeologist can infer the cultural patterns and behaviors associated with the creation of a particular type of structure. As several archaeologists and other social scientists have stated (Alexander 1979; Alexander et al. 1977; Lewis et al. 1998; Mitchell 1990; Rapoport 1969; to name a few), some of the most visible expressions of human culture are illustrated architecturally. Unfortunately for the archaeologist, the architecture being studied is not always visible, making this underlying manifestation of culture difficult to analyze. With the exception of the occasional preservation of burned structural remains, this lack of visible prehistoric architecture is certainly the case for the southeastern United States.

In this volume, several archaeologists address almost a millennium of Native American architecture in the form of both public and domestic structures in the southeastern United States. The research presented here is used to create a more complete picture of the variation of Native architecture in the Southeast and the changes that occurred both before and after the arrival of Europeans. The areas of interest include but are not limited to the American Bottom, central and southern Illinois, northeastern Arkansas, west- central Alabama, northern and central Georgia, and eastern and western Tennessee during the Mississippian (ca. A.D. 1000-1550) and Historic (A.D. 1550-1820) stages (Figure 1.1).

The majority of architectural studies in archaeology tend to focus on large monumental structures such as the Maya temples or the Mississippian platform mounds. The overall concept of this book is unique in the sense that it addresses architecture mainly at a household level with additional emphasis on community-level structures. This relatively narrow focus of architecture allows for the identification of construction trends in public and domestic houses. The research presented in this book is not concerned with architecture in the sense of large- scale planning and construction such as earthen mounds, plazas, town designs, palisades, or defensive structures (as in Dalan et al. 2003; Lewis and Stout 1998; Rogers and Smith 1995; to name a few). Therefore, from this point forward when the term architecture, structure, building, or any other synonym is used, it refers only to Native houses, both public and domestic, consisting of covered walls and a roof, unless stated otherwise.

The authors use an array of approaches in examining architecture in the Southeast, including ethnohistory, ethnography, multivariate data analysis, architectural grammar, experimental archaeology, wood science, and structural engineering. Each chapter focuses on at least one of two objectives in examining Native architecture. The first objective addresses the above-ground appearance of prehistoric houses. This is typically accomplished through the use of ethnography and experimental archaeology. The second objective is to inspect architectural floor plans and structural remains in order to classify the variety of foundation types. Based on the analysis of these forms, a second part of the latter objective involves categorizing these floor plans based on their similarities from samples recovered in the specific region of study. In order to create these typologies, different methodologies at the house level, both public and domestic, are fashioned based on variables documented in the archaeological record. These variables include but are not limited to wall post size, floor area, wall trench width and depth, burned wall and roof material, and other structural characteristics.

A recurring aspect in many of these chapters is the study of experimental archaeology. A number of archaeologists have conducted full-sized experimental recreations ranging from a single dwelling (Blanton this volume; Callahan 1992; Cheatham 1992; Gorman and DuChemin 2004; Harn 1972; Iseminger and Williams 1998; Lacquement 2004, 2005; Litchford 2002; Nash 1968; Norrish 1989; Reed this volume; Sullivan this volume) to an entire Mississippian village (Kennedy and Sawyer 2005; Reed n.d.). However, as Knight (this volume) points out, the majority of experimental research remains unpublished. These experiments are like Native folklore, in that, after the structures have been destroyed the only evidence that remains are their stories. This makes it difficult for one to comparatively study what archaeologists have learned from their architectural triumphs and setbacks. Regardless, the authors in this publication bring together many of these sources, some their own research, along with other references concerning the general thoughts and interpretations of Native architecture.

Early Mississippian Wall Trench House Debate

The subsequent chapters of this book are dedicated to exposing a long- running and unsolved debate concerning the above-ground appearance of early Mississippian wall trench architecture. Varieties of floor plans have been discovered in the southeastern United States, among which two most common floor plans emerge-a wall trench design and a large individually set post design (Figure 1.2). Early southeastern archaeologists in the 1930s speculated that the wall trench design of the Native Americans during the Mississippian stage represented a curved roof structure covered in bark, cane matting, or grass thatching (Jones and DeJarnette 1936; Lewis 1937; Lewis and Kneberg 1941, 1946; Sullivan this volume; Webb 1938) (Figure 1.3). The same archaeologists believed that the chronologically later form, the large individually set post design, was a different architectural form that possessed a hipped or gabled roof as opposed to a curved or flexed roof (Figure 1.4). Note that throughout this book, this earlier type of proposed architecture is referred to as curved roof, flexed roof, flexed pole, arbor roof, or wigwam interchangeably, whereas architecture proposing a hipped or gabled roof is referred to as rigid roof structures unless the two variants of this roof style can be distinguished.

The perception of early Mississippian architecture changed very rapidly in the 1940s. Although DeJarnette, Lewis, Kneberg, and Webb maintained the idea of a flexed pole appearance for the early Mississippian wall trench foundations, other archaeologists began advocating a more European or Mesoamerican style of architecture for the wall trench design (Black 1944, 1967; Harn 1972; Hoebel 1949; Martin et al. 1947; Price 1969; Walthall 1977), one slightly similar to the notion of late Mississippian rigid post buildings. This view that there was no architectural difference in roof style between structures of the early Mississippian and late Mississippian floor plans dominated the subsequent decades. Yet, within the last twenty years, a growing number of archaeologists have again begun to support a curved or flexed roof style for the early Mississippian wall trench foundation (Blanton and Gresham this volume; Lacquement 2005, this volume; Polhemus 1985, 1987; Reed n.d., this volume; Scarry 1995, 1998; Wilson 2005). However, it appears based on current museum displays, paintings, dioramas, book covers and illustrations, and full-scale reproductions that the rigid roof concept is still more widely accepted.

Chapters in support of each side of the debate are presented in order to address distinguishing characteristics of both views. Archaeologists supporting either of the two positions have had success and failure in the experimental reproduction of Mississippian wall trench houses, as well as supporting and contradicting evidence from ethnohistory, structural engineering, and wood science technology. The point of contention in the debate seems to be post size and the presence or absence of corner posts and internal support posts.

Archaeologists supporting the idea of a flexed roof typically argue that a hipped or gabled roof cannot be supported without posts in the corners of structures and posts placed inside of the structure in strategic locations in order to support the independent roof component. From this point of view, flexed pole architecture is ideal, as open corners are considered necessary to weave the wall poles together into a roof framework. In addition, only small diameter poles would have been able to be manipulated in this fashion, whereas larger, widely set posts would be more appropriate for a hipped or gabled roof. This interwoven framework of the flexed roof form is believed to resist inward pressures and therefore requires no internal roof supports.

In contrast, archaeologists in favor of rigid construction argue that a hipped or gabled roof is both possible and plausible for an open corner wall trench foundation that lacks interior roof supports. From this point of view, internal roof supports, though frequently present, are not always necessary when proper internal roof bracing and suitable lashing are used in supporting the independent roof unit. On the one hand this standpoint typically embraces the idea that one or more roof supports will and did support an independent roof unit. Archaeologists who advocate a flexed roof style, on the other hand, argue that one or two supports may have been necessary in building larger flexed pole houses, or perhaps these internal postholes represent interior roof bracing or a scaffolding system that was used in the construction process and removed after completion.

Chapters that address this above-ground architectural debate are presented in this book in order to fully understand each point of view. Perhaps by acknowledging the debate and presenting the perspectives of the two opposing sides, a consensus will be reached and the criteria necessary to solve the dispute will be established in future research. Presenting both architectural views also allows readers to make up their own minds concerning the interpretation of the architectural data in the archaeological record. It may also be possible that both sides are correct and that this single foundation design possessed two above-ground architectural forms. However, the general consensus from both sides does not support this double interpretation of above- ground layout at present.

Survey of Architectural Foundations in the Southeast

Many of the chapters present various characteristics of archaeological floor plans in the southeastern United States. These studies include architectural forms such as domestic houses, larger public/ ceremonial houses, and sweat lodges. The main objective of these chapters is to distinguish which architectural floor plans can be grouped together based on similar characteristics to establish a particular structural form. In other words, the authors of these chapters are not as concerned with describing the above- ground features of houses as with focusing on the architectural characteristics that are consistent among certain building types. Regardless of which side of the flexed pole/rigid post debate one sympathizes, these chapters are important in the chronology of foundation styles in particular regions of the Southeast. In addition, by investigating regions independently, the results can be slowly merged together to assemble the beginnings of a regional chronology for prehistoric architecture in the southeastern United States.

The examination of foundation variability is accomplished in several ways. One method utilized is to construct an architectural grammar, as Lewis and Stout (1998) did in their assessment of Mississippian town designs. Here, classifications are created using linguistic methodology to pinpoint and categorize common trends in architecture. In addition to architectural grammars, another method in examining floor plan variability is to create typologies based on shared characteristics and/ or multivariate analysis as Brown (1985) and Polhemus (1985) have done with Plaquemine culture architecture in the Lower Mississippi Valley, and Hiwassee, Dallas, and Mouse Creek phases in eastern Tennessee, respectively.

Additionally, a chapter addressing the variability in architecture focuses on one particular type of structure, the sweat lodge. Although the main objective of this author is to examine the architectural details of structures used both historically and prehistorically for the purpose of sweating, this chapter also indirectly addresses the above-ground debate mentioned previously. Many archaeologists group function and architecture together in stating that the majority of circular sweat lodges were created in a flexed roof form, even though this architectural form is not the norm for a particular area (McConaughy 1985, this volume; Milner 1984; Pauketat and Woods 1986; Simon 2002). This statement possesses implications that the only forms of flexed pole architecture in these areas were circular buildings utilized as sweat lodges, and therefore any suspected curved-roof buildings are automatically considered to be sweat lodges. It then appears that flexed pole architecture would most likely not be a construction method used in the simply domestic (nonsweating) structures. The chapter that addresses the architectural characteristics of sweat lodges provides a means for addressing the idea that a particular type of architecture accommodated a specific function.

Organization of Chapters

Five of the chapters in this book were originally papers presented in a symposium at the 62nd annual Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Columbia, South Carolina, in November of 2005. Robert Lafferty's paper was also presented at the same meeting in a different symposium. Four additional chapters were added after the symposium, including those by Ramie Gougeon, Vernon Knight, Lynne Sullivan, and Mark McConaughy. The first three authors created chapters specifically for this publication. McConaughy's chapter is a revised version of a paper originally given at the 31st annual Midwest Archaeological Conference in East Lansing, Michigan, in 1985 and has been cited in numerous books and Cultural Resource Management reports in archaeology throughout the Southeast.

Nelson Reed, in Chapter 2, explores the archaeological, experimental, and ethnohistorical evidence of Mississippian wall trench houses in the southeastern United States. Based on his evidence, Reed suggests that the curved roof design is the most suitable above- ground architecture given the design of the wall trench foundation. This argument, like many that advocate curved roof architecture, is based on archaeological signatures such as small, closely spaced wall poles set in a wall trench, with no corner poles or strategically placed roof supports. According to Reed, his experimental reconstruction of several curved roof houses fits the given floor plan as well as providing a more suitable framework than a small pole wall trench structure with a hipped or gabled roof.


Excerpted from Architectural Variability in the Southeast Copyright © 2007 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
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

List of Illustrations     vii
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction to Architectural Variability in the Southeast   Cameron H. Lacquement     1
Evidence of Curved Roof Construction in Mississippian Structures   Nelson A. Reed     12
An Experimental Perspective on Mississippian Small Pole Structures   Dennis B. Blanton   Thomas H. Gresham     32
Typology, Chronology, and Technological Changes of Mississippian Domestic Architecture in West-Central Alabama   Cameron H. Lacquement     49
In-Ground Evidence of Above-Ground Architecture at Kincaid Mounds   Tamira K. Brennan     73
A Comparison of Burned Mississippian Houses from Illinois   Mark A. McConaughy     101
A WPA Deja Vu on Mississippian Architecture   Lynne P. Sullivan     117
An Architectural Grammar of Late Mississippian Houses in Northwest Georgia   Ramie A. Gougeon     136
A Mississippian Sweat Lodge   Robert H. Lafferty, III     153
Interpreting Changes in Historic Creek Household Architecture at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century   Robert J. Scott     166
Conclusions: Taking Architecture Seriously   Vernon J. Knight, Jr.     186
References Cited     193
Contributors     215
Index     219
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