Lamar Archaeology: Mississippian Chiefdoms in the Deep South

Lamar Archaeology: Mississippian Chiefdoms in the Deep South

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A Dan Josselyn Memorial Publication

Lamar Archaeology provides a comprehensive and detailed review of our knowledge of the late prehistoric Indian societies in the Southern Appalachian area and its peripheries. These Lamar societies were chiefdom-level groups who built most of the mounds in this large region and were ancestors of later tribes, including the Creeks and Cherokees. This book begins with a history of the last 50 years of archaeological and historical research and brings together for the first time all the available data on this early culture. It also provides an invaluable model for books about Southeastern Indian societies by combining purely descriptive information with innovative analyses, advancing our knowledge of the past while remaining firmly grounded in the archaeological evidence as fact.

Contributors include:

Frankie Snow, Chad O. Braley, James B. Langford Jr., Marvin T. Smith, Daniel T. Elliott, Richard R. Polhemus, C. Roger Nance, Gary Shapiro, Mark Williams, John F. Scarry, David G. Anderson, andCharles M. Hudson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817383855
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 12/15/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 271
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Mark Williams, senior academic professional in Anthropology at the University
of Georgia, specializes in Georgia archaeology and ethnohistory. He is
coauthor of Lamar Archaeology with Gary Shapiro, and A World Engraved with
Dan Elliott. He is also director of the UGA Laboratory of Archaeology.

Read an Excerpt

Lamar Archaeology

Mississippian Chiefdoms in the Deep South

By Mark Williams, Gary Shapiro

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1990 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8385-5


Lamar Archaeology


From the mountains of east Tennessee to the low hills of north Florida and from the coast of South Carolina to the central Alabama Piedmont lived the Native Americans known to archaeologists as the Mississippian period Lamar people. These were the people encountered in those areas by the Spaniard Hernando de Soto on the first exploration of interior America. Though he hoped these people would be mining gold from the mountains in the way he had earlier seen in Peru, he was sadly disappointed. De Soto and his army left the Lamar area with no gold and wandered almost aimlessly to the west.

What of these Lamar people? Where did this name come from? What was the culture of these people like? What have archaeologists learned in the last 50 years of research upon these now long-gone and mostly forgotten early southerners? What can we glean from historic documents about them at this late date? How did the Creek and the Cherokee emerge from their descendants 150 years after De Soto died?

When De Soto entered what would later become the area of central Georgia, he found Indian societies that differed from those farther south. The houses here had cane roofs instead of the grass thatch the Spaniards had seen earlier. The explorers also recognized that they had entered a different environmental province, one in which Indian towns were strung along the river valleys, where corn was more abundant and the soil contained minerals that encouraged their hopes of finding gold. Perhaps more remarkable than these differences was a change in the behavior of the Indians. In contrast to Florida's Apalachee, who were relentless in their attacks, these Indians were less likely to fight with the Spaniards and even paid tribute to them. Some chiefs saw the explorers as potential allies in their conflicts with other Indian provinces. Others cooperated simply because they feared the ruthless terror tactics employed by De Soto and his troops. Only after having traveled northeast to central South Carolina, then north and west through North Carolina, and finally southwest through parts of Tennessee and into Alabama, did the explorers again encounter fierce resistance from the Indians. At this point in his travels, somewhere in central Alabama, De Soto exited the region today known to archaeologists as the Lamar culture area.

Although they noticed differences in behavior, house construction, village location, and natural environment, none of the De Soto chroniclers mentioned the unique style of Indian pottery in this region. In fact, it is pottery that defines the Lamar area and the Lamar period for the archaeologist. As early as 1903, William Henry Holmes recognized uniformity in the area's pottery and named it the South Appalachian Group (Holmes 1903). During the 1930s, excavations near Macon, Georgia, allowed archaeologists to formally define some of the characteristic pottery types. The pottery was named Lamar for a famous mound site located there. As more excavations were conducted in the Southeast, archaeologists began to recognize the broad distribution of Lamar pottery. They found regional variations of the broad Lamar style and in many places applied new type names to indicate these differences. Some examples include Pisgah and Qualla in western North Carolina, Pee Dee in south-central North Carolina and north-central South Carolina, Irene on the Georgia coast, Bull Creek along the Alabama-Georgia border, and Leon-Jefferson in north Florida. All of these regional variants occur within an area that Leland Ferguson (1971) has called South Appalachian Mississippian. This is a subarea of Mississippian culture where for many centuries the Indians decorated their pots with complicated designs stamped into the wet clay (Figure 1).

The Lamar period began relatively late in the history of South Appalachian Mississippian cultures. In most areas, researchers estimate the beginning of the Lamar period at about A.D. 1350, although it extends to some regions only at a much later date. This is the case in north Florida, where Lamar pottery first appears sometime after 1540.

The characteristics of early Lamar stamped pottery include specific stamped designs, such as the filfot stamp and figure nine motifs. Stamping is usually applied in what appears to us as a careless fashion, and the designs are often smoothed over and nearly obliterated. The rims of pottery vessels are often embellished with strips of clay appliquéd around the rim or are folded outward to achieve the same effect of apparent thickening. These thickened rims are usually decorated with notches, pinches, or large punctations. Later in the Lamar period, the Indians applied incised designs to the upper portion of pottery vessels. Like the stamped designs, the incised designs vary through time and from region to region, but some common incised motifs include running scrolls and nested lines separated by bull's-eye designs. Many of these variations are illustrated elsewhere in this book. They are mentioned here only to provide some boundary definition for our use of the term Lamar. Lamar is the name we conveniently apply to the later South Appalachian Mississippian cultures that produced certain pottery types. This usage does not in any way diminish the reality of regional ceramic variation within the Lamar culture area.

Of course, we are interested in documenting more than just the variability of pottery within the Lamar area. Research by the contributors to this volume includes studies of site plans, human ecology, and political structure and attempts to reconstruct the ancient worldview of these people. Individually, these studies are intrinsically interesting, but together they promise to shed light on issues of broad anthropological concern. We assume that shared pottery styles reflect other shared aspects of culture. Although we do not know the extent to which this is true, it is certain that the relative uniformity of pottery styles within this broad region indicates some degree of social interaction among these people. This is what makes the study of Lamar societies exciting, for they represent a distinctive segment of Mississippian culture in the Southeast.

Mississippian peoples are generally known for their large villages set in river floodplains, for their construction of earthen mounds to support temples and the houses of chiefs, and for their relatively complex social structures. At a large scale of analysis, we hope to learn much by comparing Lamar societies with other regional Mississippian cultures. What characteristics are held in common? And in what ways, other than pottery styles, do Lamar societies resemble one another more than they resemble Mississippian societies elsewhere? In discovering the unique evolutionary history of Lamar cultures, we will inevitably document variations in chiefdoms that may be similar to variations in chiefdoms in other parts of the earth. For the specific knowledge of local Indian cultures and for the potential contribution to the general study of North American chiefdoms, Lamar societies deserve serious study.

During the last decade, our study region has seen a tremendous increase in archaeological fieldwork and ethnohistoric research. This is due in part to the excellent archaeological salvage work performed by private contract firms and universities. Research on Lamar period societies has received special impetus from renewed interest in the sixteenth-century Spanish explorations of De Soto, Pardo, and De Luna, all of whom came in contact with Lamar cultures. In spite of the accelerated pace of archaeological and ethnohistoric research, there has been no attempt at synthesis since Leland Ferguson's (1971) excellent dissertation. That's why the LAMAR Institute organized a small, informal meeting in 1986.

The LAMAR Institute was founded in 1982 to help coordinate research on these societies and to help educate the public at all levels about these and earlier southeastern Indian cultures. Toward this end, the institute sponsored a two-day conference in Macon, Georgia, on May 9–10, 1986. In order to share their recent contributions, scholars from all the states where the Lamar culture is known to have existed (except North Carolina) attended the conference. The participants (Figure 2) felt that others might benefit from the knowledge we shared that weekend, and accordingly, we have assembled the conference papers into this book.

The meeting was organized into two major parts, and this book follows that division. The first part dealt with the various chronologies revised by researchers working in eighteen study regions within the Lamar area. These are presented in Part II, which contains the most complete and detailed set of chronological data yet available for the overall Lamar area.

The second portion of the conference was devoted to individual research topics. Some of these papers present new approaches to the study of Lamar societies; others present new data for theorists to ponder. We hope they will spur further research in the Lamar area, provide ideas that may be useful to researchers of Native Americans in other parts of the New World, and, finally, inform the general public of the various avenues scientists are presently pursuing in their study of the Indian societies that once held sway in the South.

A number of key people, of course, were involved in the success of the conference. Among the many individuals with critical roles, none was more important than Jacqueline Saindon, vice president of the LAMAR Institute. Her tireless efforts made the meeting run as smooth as a burnished plain potsherd!

In the earliest stages of conference planning, there was a strong desire to hold it at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia, the nominal home of the Lamar culture. Through the kind permission of superintendent Sibald Smith, this desire became reality, and we most kindly thank him for his efforts. Sylvia Flowers, also of the Ocmulgee National Monument staff, helped us in innumerable ways and was a constant joy for us to work with. The rangers of the monument staff, particularly Russ Whitlock, gave us a memorable tour of the undeveloped Lamar-type site.

Jim Hawkins, a professional sound engineer from Athens, Georgia, most kindly recorded the entire proceedings on audiotape—fodder for some future historian of southeastern archaeology, no doubt!

Beth Misner and Ken Carleton, archaeology graduate students at the University of Georgia, both aided in many ways. We thank them for their cheerful contributions.

John Whatley of the Central Georgia Chapter of the Society for Georgia Archaeology arranged for us to borrow a number of tables and chairs from his local church to create a roundtable atmosphere. We kindly thank John for his aid. Most of the graphics are by Julie B. Smith. The front cover illustration is by Frankie Snow.

Finally, we wish to invoke the spirits of the late Joseph Caldwell and Charles Fairbanks and meekly hope that they approve of the progress we have made in the recent years.

In conclusion, it is my (Williams) sad task to report that Gary Shapiro, my coeditor, professional partner, and best friend, died on June 24, 1988, shortly after the manuscript for this volume was accepted for publication. He was 33 years old. Gary was a special person who enriched the lives of all those around him with wit, charm, and love. As I write this one year later, I still can't believe that he is gone. While his contributions to Lamar archaeology were substantively important, his unbounded enthusiasm about the worth of this research will continue to motivate those who knew him for years to come. So long, Bro'.

Before embarking on the two main parts of the book, we must explain how the research on Lamar societies presented here came to be; that is, some history of the last 50 years of Lamar archaeology is needed.

Lamar Archaeology: 1987


Whether or not John Basil Lamar ever saw, much less seriously reflected upon, the Indian mounds he owned is unrecorded. In 1862, during the Battle of Crampton's Gap in Maryland, he was killed by a Yankee bullet. His name, however, is forever tied to an Indian culture, a period of time, several Indian ceramic styles, and even a research and public education institute.

Lamar was descended from French Huguenot ancestors who had settled in America two generations earlier. As a planter and plantation owner, he acquired the land on which the famous Lamar site is situated about 1830. The land around the mounds was cleared by the 1840s, and he had ample opportunity to see them. Lamar had attended Mt. Zion school near the Shoulderbone site in Hancock County and then was a student at the University of Georgia. That he had some interest in Indians is indicated by his presentation of a five-piece beaded Cherokee costume to Oliver Prince at Milledgeville in the 1830s (John Walker, personal communication). In his time, he was a state and a federal legislator, as well as the author of several famous humorous sketches, including "Polly Peablossom's Wedding" and "Cornelius Corntassel's First Affair of Honor.'"

At his death, the Lamar mounds were left to his sister, Mary Ann Lamar Cobb. In 1868, they passed to a niece, Mary Ann Lamar. She had earlier been married to her first cousin, Jefferson Jackson Lamar, who was also killed in the Battle of Crampton's Gap. If the Lamar family was short of original female names, this was not the case for their males. Jefferson Jackson Lamar had several brothers, including Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (father of a U.S. Supreme Court justice of the same name) and Mirabeau Buonapart Lamar (later governor of Texas).

Mary Ann Lamar's second husband was Dr. Robert M. Patterson. The mounds passed into his hands for most of the remainder of the nineteenth century. At the time of their transfer to the Macon Junior Chamber of Commerce in December of 1933, the mounds (by then known as the Lamar-Patterson mounds) were a part of a large plantation owned by the Gledhill family. The mounds and 40 acres around them were legally transferred to the United States government on March 25, 1935, as an integral part of Ocmulgee National Monument.

Early Days

Several Lamar archaeological sites were excavated before Lamar as such was defined. These include some of the excavations on the Georgia coast by Moore (1897), at the Hollywood site by Reynolds (1894), at the Nacoochee site reported by Heye, Hodge, and Pepper (1918), at the Etowah site by Moorehead (1932), at the mound in Dillard, Georgia, by Colburn (1936), and at the Peachtree site by Setzler and Jennings (1941). But it was with the 1930s excavations at Macon that Lamar archaeology really began to come into focus.

Arthur R. Kelly came from Texas to direct the Macon Civil Works Authority archaeological public-relief project in mid-December of 1933. While he was setting up excavations on the huge Macon Plateau site, James A. Ford, who was also hired by the Smithsonian Institution as an archaeologist, began excavations at the Lamar site. Ford immediately began documenting the remains of a vigorous society with distinctive material culture remains. Almost immediately, Ford and Kelly began to apply the name of this site to both the material remains and the people who had made them. Ford left the Macon project in late May of 1934, and work continued at Lamar under Kelly's direction.

Even in the first scholarly account of the excavations, Kelly began generalizing the name Lamar to the "Lamar villagers" and the "Lamar type" of flexed burial of the dead (Kelly 1935, 245). The location of this site in the low swamps along the Ocmulgee River south of Macon led Kelly to assume mistakenly that these people were uniquely adapted to a swamp way of life (246). The sites in the floodplains did not flood as often prehistorically as they do at present, and thus the floodplains were not as swampy then as now (Trimble 1974).

By the time his more famous Smithsonian Institution monograph was completed in July of 1937, Kelly had greatly expanded the notion of Lamar (Kelly 1938). Other uses of the term there include: Lamar stamped vessels, Lamar pottery decoration, Lamar pottery complex, Lamar-like pottery traits, Lamar bold incised, Lamar complicated stamped, Lamar occupation, Lamar-like sites, Lamar sites, and Lamar focus (Kelly 1938, 47–51, 68). The last of these refers to the then current McKern classification scheme for archaeological sites and materials (Willey and Sabloff 1980).

Kelly recognized that the ceramics from the Lamar site were different from those in other Mississippian areas in the Midwest and that there were many other sites in Georgia that yielded pottery of similar form (Kelly 1938, 50–51). He summarized those characteristics that, even today, form the hallmarks of Lamar pottery wherever it occurs (47–50). He also correctly hypothesized that these sites were the ones occupied at the time that De Soto made his entrance into the interior Southeast (57).

In spite of all Kelly did in founding the Lamar concept, he did not discuss the site or materials in an anthropological context. There was almost no discussion of people or society. Perhaps this was appropriate at the time, given the general level of initial discovery and description of the remains, but it helped set the tone for Lamar research for many years to come. Jesse Jennings and Charles Fairbanks (1939) formally described the pottery that Kelly identified with the Lamar people in the 1939 newsletter of the then recently formed Southeastern Archaeological Conference.


Excerpted from Lamar Archaeology by Mark Williams, Gary Shapiro. Copyright © 1990 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.
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Table of Contents

Contents Part I - Lamar Archaeology Introduction Lamar Archaeology: 1987 Part II - Time and Space Introduction Regional Chronologies Phase Characteristics Part III - Case Studies Introduction 1. Pine Barrens Lamar / Frankie Snow 2. The Lamar Ceramics of the Georgia Coast / Chad O. Braley 3. Recent Investigations in the Core of the Coosa Province / James B. Langford, Jr., and Marvin T. Smith 4. Two Late Lamar Sites near Ray's Corner, Oconee County, Georgia / Daniel T. Elliott 5. Dallas Phase Architecture and Sociopolitical Structure / Richard R. Polhemus 6. A Study of Lamar Ecology on the Western Edge of the Southern Piedmont / C. Roger Nance 7. Bottomlands and Rapids: A Mississippian Adaptive Niche in the Georgia Piedmont / Gary Shapiro 8. Paired Towns / Mark Williams and Gary Shapiro 9. The Rise, Transformation, and Fall of Apalachee: A Case Study of Political Change in a Chiefly Society / John F. Scarry 10. Stability and Change in Chiefdom-Level Societies: An Examination of Mississippian Political Evolution on the South Atlantic Slope / David G. Anderson 11. Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa / Charles M. Hudson References Cited Index

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