Landscape patches, macroregional exchanges and pre-Columbian political economy in southwestern Georgia

John Francis Chamblee
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Arizona
July, 2006


Results from archaeological survey provide new insights into the origins of variation among the prehistoric Native American societies that occupied the Chickasawhatchee Swamp of southwestern Georgia. Through macroregional comparison, these insights are broadly applicable to the Eastern Woodlands societies that existed across the southeastern U.S. between A.D. 150 and 1600. Theoretical frameworks concerning landscape ecology, inter-regional exchange, and agency and structure provide the organizing structure for a multi-scalar view of change that contradicts earlier models. Within the Chickasawhatchee Swamp, survey, mapping, and excavation data present a complex regional settlement system. Within the swamp, a few large settlements were occupied for the long-term, in spite of the absence of monumental architecture. Smaller surrounding sites were periodically abandoned. At the swamp's edge, several subregions were organized around civic-ceremonial mound sites. At these edges, mound sites and surrounding subregions were abandoned simultaneously. Instead of being driven by changes in political complexity, residential mobility cycles were consistent through time and related to the region's heterogeneous landscape. Macroregional spatial data comparing mound locations through time support data from the Chickasawhatchee Swamp and confirm hypotheses relating mound construction and transitional landscapes. New data emphasize continuity in inter-regional exchange networks and contradict earlier views in which the emergence of hierarchical political structures were a transformational process that fundamentally altered Eastern Woodlands political economies. Temporal continuity and spatial variation are instead most evident.