Plaquemine Archaeology


First major work to deal solely with the Plaquemine societies.

Plaquemine, Louisiana, about 10 miles south of Baton Rouge on the banks of the Mississippi River, seems an unassuming southern community for which to designate an entire culture. Archaeological research conducted in the region between 1938 and 1941, however, revealed distinctive cultural materials that provided the basis for distinguishing a unique cultural manifestation in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Plaquemine ...

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First major work to deal solely with the Plaquemine societies.

Plaquemine, Louisiana, about 10 miles south of Baton Rouge on the banks of the Mississippi River, seems an unassuming southern community for which to designate an entire culture. Archaeological research conducted in the region between 1938 and 1941, however, revealed distinctive cultural materials that provided the basis for distinguishing a unique cultural manifestation in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Plaquemine was first cited in the archaeological literature by James Ford and Gordon Willey in their 1941 synthesis of eastern U.S. prehistory.

Lower Valley researchers have subsequently grappled with where to place this culture in the local chronology based on its ceramics, earthen mounds, and habitations. Plaquemine cultural materials share some characteristics with other local cultures but differ significantly from Coles Creek and Mississippian cultures of the Southeast. Plaquemine has consequently received the dubious distinction of being defined by the characteristics it lacks, rather than by those it possesses.

The current volume brings together eleven leading scholars devoted to shedding new light on Plaquemine and providing a clearer understanding of its relationship to other Native American cultures. The authors provide a thorough yet focused review of previous research, recent revelations, and directions for future research. They present pertinent new data on cultural variability and connections in the Lower Mississippi Valley and interpret the implications for similar cultures and cultural relationships. This volume finally places Plaquemine on the map, incontrovertibly demonstrating the accomplishments and importance of Plaquemine peoples in the long history of native North America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The focus on Plaquemine cultural identity and variability and the evidence and arguments for origins, material culture, social, economic, and political differences make this high-quality work worthy of wide distribution and recognition
—Martha A. Rolingson, Arkansas Archeological Survey
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817353667
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark A. Rees is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Patrick C. Livingood is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.

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Plaquemine Archaeology
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5366-7

Chapter One Introduction and Historical Overview Mark A. Rees and Patrick C. Livingood

The town of Plaquemine, Louisiana, seems an unassuming southern community for which to designate an entire culture. Of course names can be misleading and Plaquemine is no exception. Like Mississippian culture of southeastern North America, of which Plaquemine has been described as a regional focus or variant (Griffin 1946, 1967), Plaquemine was devised by archaeologists to describe the material remains and sites of pre-Columbian and protohistoric Native American societies for which there exists little or no written documentation. Its geographic position has been associated with the Lower Mississippi Valley (LMV), extending from the Mississippi delta on the Gulf coast to just south of the Arkansas River ( Jeter and Williams 1989:207-208; cf. Neuman 1984:259). This area spans the southern Yazoo Basin and Natchez Bluffs on the east and the lower Ouachita and Red river valleys on the west, encompassing a diverse range of valley topography and environments (Figure 1.1) (Autin et al. 1991; Kidder 2004b:545; Saucier 1994).

So what's the problem or, rather, what are the problems with Plaquemine? Like the town for which it was named, it has seemed at times on the verge of washing into the Mississippi River (Riffel 1985:38-41). Unlike its more well-known and extroverted Mississippian cousin, Plaquemine seems to have been fraught with difficulties since early on. No sooner had the concept been defined than the exigencies of archaeological research required that it be deconstructed and redefined (Phillips 1970:950). Alternating descriptions of diagnostic pottery types, earthen mounds, and architecture in different regions have produced the appearance of an imprecise or "nebulous" tradition (Brown 1985b:252; Jeter and Williams 1989:205). Yet Plaquemine is today still regarded as a distinct cultural tradition on the frontier of the Mississippian world, with ties to both earlier Coles Creek and contemporaneous Mississippian traditions, beginning in the second or third century of the Mississippi period (ca. A.D. 1000-1700).

As advances in research continue to make contributions to our understanding of the archaeology of the LMV, it is apropos to reconsider the concept of Plaquemine culture. An attempt has been made in this volume to draw together recent studies that call attention to variability as well as uniformity, including views from such disparate environments as the Mississippi River floodplain, the Tensas Basin, the Natchez Bluffs, and the "northerly borderlands" of southeastern Arkansas. Even so, much variability in the archaeological record has yet to be adequately investigated. There is little doubt that Plaquemine will continue to serve on one level as a valuable heuristic in examining and making sense of that variability. This chapter examines the origins and definitions of Plaquemine, summarizes some of the history and themes of Plaquemine archaeology, and introduces some ongoing problems and directions for future research.

Historical Genesis and Adjustments

Plaquemine first appeared in print in James Ford and Gordon Willey's classic 1941 synthesis of eastern United States prehistory, although without further consideration in the text. Plaquemine was shown to be intermediate to the preceding Coles Creek period and subsequent Natchez and Bayou Goula cultures. The embryonic nature of the concept is illustrated in the atypical spelling ("Placquemine") in two chronological profiles (Ford and Willey 1941: Figures 2 and 6). Ford and Willey (1941:359) also cited the Bayou Goula report as "in preparation" by Quimby. "Placquemine" was portrayed by Ford and Willey (1941:328, 330) as transitional between the Temple Mound I and II stages along the north-south axis of eastern North American cultures and associated with the Temple Mound II stage in the east-west axis. The Temple Mound stage terminology was eventually superseded by the Mississippi period and Plaquemine would come to be defined by way of contrast (Griffin 1946, 1967; Williams 1956; cf. Willey 1966:292-304).

The origins of Plaquemine can ultimately be traced to a series of distinctions made during the first half of the twentieth century, distinctions that at least initially had little to do with Plaquemine. Surveying the geographic distributions of Native American pottery in the eastern United States a century ago, William Henry Holmes (1903:21) predicted that the groups of pottery he laid out contained sufficient internal variability to eventually warrant further subdivision (see also Moore 1913). Holmes (1886, 1903) was instrumental in the creation of the Mississippian concept via his "Middle Mississippi Valley group," which by mid-century had become firmly established as the late pre-Columbian and protohistoric period in the Southeast, as well as a precocious and expansive culture subsequently thought to have emanated from the Central Mississippi Valley (DeJarnette and Wimberly 1941:99-110; Griffin 1943:257, 1946, 1952; Phillips et al. 1951; Williams 1956; see Griffin 1985 for an overview). Holmes (1903:21) suggested that ceramic traditions do not inevitably coincide with ethnicity or culture, nor are they always a reliable measure of cultural complexity (i.e., "important groups" versus "insignificant communities"). He described the geographic distribution, function, stylistic variation, and temper of pottery in the Mississippi Valley, including the physical properties of shell temper and general similarities between Lower and Middle Mississippi wares (Holmes 1903:20-80, 101-104). Mississippian culture and the Mississippi period were derived from this and subsequent works in the context of an emergent culture historical archaeology in the Southeast (Griffin 1985:44-57).

Plaquemine was developed by James Ford and George Quimby based on the results of WPA work conducted between 1938 and 1941 under the auspices of the Louisiana State Archaeological Survey. It represented a refinement of Ford's (1935a, 1936, 1938) earlier chronology of ceramic-producing cultures in the LMV: Marksville, Coles Creek, and Natchez (Quimby 1942:256, 1951:87). In an article completed the same year Ford and Willey's overview was published (1941), Quimby (1942:256) defined Plaquemine as a "culture which preceded the Natchezan type." Like Mississippian, Plaquemine had its roots in more fundamental pottery typologies and their chronological classification. More than any other culture trait, pottery types were seen as central in distinguishing Natchez from contemporaneous and earlier cultures. Among the types initially regarded by Quimby (1942:265-268) as characteristic of a "Plaquemine period" were Addis Plain (Baytown Plain, var. Addis), Manchac Incised (Mazique Incised, var. Manchac), Hardy Incised (Coles Creek Incised, var. Hardy), Plaquemine Brushed, Pocahontas Plain (Mississippi Plain, var. Pocahontas), and Pocahontas Punctated, the latter two types subsequently associated more strictly with the Natchez Bluffs (e.g., Neitzel 1983:95).

Coles Creek was in effect split into thirds: Troyville, Coles Creek proper, and Plaquemine. Plaquemine was also envisioned as a spatially intermediate pottery complex, wedged between Caddo sites on the west and various Mississippian complexes farther north and east (Ford and Willey 1941:328, 330). In this sense, Plaquemine was initially conceptualized as "a logical correction for the hasty 1940 overextension of the Caddoan concept, rather than an outgrowth of it" ( Jeter and Williams 1989:205; cf. Phillips 1970:946). Plaquemine thus came into being as a somewhat vague designation for post-Coles Creek, pre-Natchez, non-Caddo, and non-Mississippian pottery assemblages in the Lower Valley (Brown 1985b:252; Jeter and Williams 1989:205; Quimby 1942:256). Plaquemine consequently received the dubious distinction early on of being "defined more in terms of what it lacks than in what it possesses" ( Jennings 1952:267).

Archaeological understanding of Plaquemine components and assemblages advanced slowly during the ensuing decades, despite the fact that it was never "adequately defined" as a culture (Williams and Brain 1983:373). As it turns out, 1951 was a seminal year for publications on Plaquemine as well as Mississippian archaeology (e.g., Cotter 1951a; Ford 1951; Phillips et al. 1951; Quimby 1951). Sites such as Greenhouse, Medora, Emerald, and Anna yielded a wealth of information with which to flesh out the concept of Plaquemine culture. With the addition of publications by Cotter (1952a) and Quimby (1957) on the Gordon and Bayou Goula sites, these works made up until the early 1970s, according to Phillips (1970:950), the "basic documentation for the Plaquemine culture period" (see also Belmont 1967; Bohannon 1963; Brain 1969; Hally 1967; Neitzel 1965). The rapid appearance of these groundbreaking publications, delayed by World War II, provided the impetus for examining internal variability in respect to pottery types and the redefinition of Plaquemine-related phases (Phillips 1970:950). Ironically, it would also influence consideration of similarities between regional variants of Plaquemine culture and Coles Creek, Mississippian, Natchez, and Caddo cultures, or precisely what had made it necessary to differentiate Plaquemine in the first place (e.g., Brain 1978; Brown 1985a, 1985b; Gregory 1969; Hally 1972; Neitzel 1965, 1983; Steponaitis 1981; Webb 1959, 1961).

Quimby's (1951) Medora site report is generally cited as establishing the formal, archaeological criteria for both Plaquemine culture and a Plaquemine period (e.g., Ford 1952:327; Jeter and Williams 1989:206; Phillips 1970:950). Quimby argued that specific ceramic types such as Addis Plain (Baytown Plain, var. Addis), Plaquemine Brushed, L'Eau Noire Incised, Manchac Incised (Mazique Incised, var. Manchac), Hardy Incised (Coles Creek Incised, var. Hardy), and others are integral to the definition of the Plaquemine concept. Certain ceramic vessel forms such as plates with interior incising and jars with brushed decoration remain key Plaquemine indicators. Because the report was based on excavation and not just surface collections, he was also able to suggest other traits that characterize Plaquemine (Quimby 1951:128). Some of these, such as the presence of truncated, pyramidal mounds around a plaza and post construction with and without wall trenches, have generally held up over time.

Like most chronologies proposed before radiocarbon dating was available, the original dates for Plaquemine turned out to be too short and too recent. Originally thought to date not much earlier than A.D. 1400-1500 (Ford and Willey 1941:328, 330; Quimby 1951:130, 1957), it is now commonly considered to date from at least A.D. 1200. Phillips, Ford, and Griffin (1951:454, Table 17) suggested as much in the conclusion of their monumental Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, based on the correlation of sites with Mississippi River channel chronology. Plaquemine was preceded according to some by a Coles Creek transition (A.D. 1000-1200; Jeter and Williams 1989:172; Weinstein and Kelley 1992:31, 38). Medora, the type site for Plaquemine culture, in fact appears to date in large part from this transitional era (Brown 1985b:256; Weinstein 1987a:87-90). Plaquemine culture is now also usually placed within the Mississippi period (rather than Quimby's Plaquemine period), reflecting the greater influence of Mississippian culture and Mississippian archaeology (Brown 1998e).

Plaquemine Origins Reconsidered

There remain substantial differences of opinion concerning Plaquemine cultural origins, particularly in relation to preceding Coles Creek and contemporaneous Mississippian traditions. At the risk of oversimplifying the present state of affairs, three lines of argument generally characterize these differences. The first is represented in the formative works of Ford (1951), Quimby (1942, 1951, 1957), and Phillips (1970) and is referred to here as "neither Mississippian nor Coles Creek." In contrast, the second has been described as "Mississippianized Coles Creek" (Brain 1978:344-345; Brown 1985b:253; Williams and Brain 1983), while a third approach represents a middle ground of sorts and might be characterized as endogenous development or "continuity and change" (Kidder 1998b:131, this volume). Although there is certainly room for compromise (e.g., Kelley et al. 2000:17-18; Weinstein 1987a:87), we use these distinctions here as a means of highlighting the diversity of Plaquemine through time and space.

Neither Mississippian nor Coles Creek

Phillips (1970) both emphasized the position of Plaquemine as a culture and redefined the culture in terms of specific phases. This allowed him to talk about the Mississippi period throughout the LMV but to distinguish between Plaquemine and Mississippian cultures. Phillips refined and codified the type-variety system used for classifying ceramics in the Lower Valley. One of the hallmarks of this system is that it is hierarchical; it calls for investing more importance in certain distinctions by using them as the criteria to separate types, and it calls for subsuming other, presumably more minor differences under the divisions between varieties (e.g., Brown 1998b). The presence or absence of shell tempering was recognized as one of the first-order distinctions used in the descriptions of types. Since Phillips used ceramic evidence as the primary criteria for making cultural distinctions, the absence or presence of shell tempering became the axiomatic means for separating Plaquemine from Mississippian (Kidder 1998b:131; Williams and Brain 1983:337, 340).

The definition of Plaquemine we inherit from Phillips (1970:30, 34) thus hinges almost entirely on ceramics. He stipulated that Plaquemine is defined by a cluster of ceramic types and forms, the absence of significant shell tempering being the most important characteristic that ties these complexes together. Plaquemine is distinguished by "long-standing typological criteria" developed out of Phillips, Ford, and Griffin's (1951) earlier Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (Phillips 1970:923). Phases as well as cultures were distinguished on the basis of ceramics, according to Phillips (1970:9) representing "discontinuities of a minor order that are no less inherent in the material."

Phases were consequently emphasized as the central mechanism for understanding cultural dynamics, as embodied in regional designations such as Medora, Crippen Point, and Fitzhugh (Phillips 1970:558-560, 945, 950-951; cf. Phillips and Willey 1953). Phillips (1970:950-951) thus commented on the phase-based "dismemberment" of Plaquemine culture as a necessary analytical exercise, excising all except those phases that maintained Plaquemine as a cohesive and unadulterated complex. Of course, one result of this approach was to emphasize the need to determine whether a particular phase was either Plaquemine or Mississippian ( Jeter and Williams 1989:212). On a broader scale, Phillips (1970:13) described Mississippian influence in the Lower Yazoo Basin in terms of intrinsic cultural movements, falling somewhere between diffusion and invasion. He referred to the ability of Plaquemine culture bearers to repel, at least for a time, the seemingly indomitable Mississippian drive southward ("Drang nach Süden"; Phillips 1970:954), what a later generation of archaeologists would critique as the "Mississippian expansion" (i.e., Smith 1984).

The idea of Plaquemine as neither Mississippian nor Coles Creek was thus integral to its origin as an archaeological culture, pottery complex, culture period, and phase. Ford (1951:85-89) found only minor evidence for an early Plaquemine component at Greenhouse, a major Coles Creek mound site in central Louisiana. Similarities between Plaquemine and Coles Creek were seen as strongest in this area and to the south, both in terms of pottery types and the continued use of burial mounds (e.g., Jennings 1952:267; Rees, this volume). In contrast, similarities between Plaquemine and Mississippian were more readily apparent to the north, particularly at sites with large platform mounds. Yet perceptions of difference and similarity had actually provided little explanation for Plaquemine cultural origins. Near the end of his Yazoo Basin report, Phillips (1970:967-968) amended an earlier suggestion that Plaquemine architecture and settlement patterns in the Yazoo Basin appeared to represent the "Mississippianization" of Plaquemine culture, arguing instead that "the hypothesis can only be tested by thorough excavation."


Excerpted from Plaquemine Archaeology 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.
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Table of Contents

Figures     vii
Tables     xi
Preface     xiii
Introduction and Historical Overview   Mark A. Rees   Patrick C. Livingood     1
Coles Creek Antecedents of Plaquemine Mound Construction: Evidence from the Raffman Site   Lori Roe     20
Extraregional Contact and Cultural Interaction at the Coles Creek-Plaquemine Transition: Recent Data from the Lake Providence Mounds, East Carroll Parish, Louisiana   Douglas C. Wells   Richard A. Weinstein     38
Plaquemine Mounds of the Western Atchafalaya Basin   Mark A. Rees     66
Transitional Coles Creek-Plaquemine Relationships on Northwest Lake Salvador, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana   Malcolm K. Shuman     94
Plaquemine Recipes: Using Computer-Assisted Petrographic Analysis to Investigate Plaquemine Ceramic Recipes   Patrick C. Livingood     108
Feasting on the Bluffs: Anna Site Excavations in the Natchez Bluffs of Mississippi   Virgil Roy Beasley III     127
Plaquemine Culture in the Natchez Bluffs Region of Mississippi   Ian W. Brown     145
The Outer Limits of Plaquemine Culture: A View from the Northerly Borderlands   Marvin D. Jeter     161
Contemplating Plaquemine Culture   Tristram R. Kidder     196
References Cited     207
Contributors     259
Index     261
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