Social organization and pottery production at Angel Mounds, a Mississippian archaeological site

Dru Evan McGill
Anthropology, Indiana University
June, 2016


In this dissertation, fragments of over 1,400 Mississippi Plain pottery (MPP) rimsherds from the late pre-Columbian Mississippian archaeological site of Angel Mounds (12VG1) were examined to address questions about individual and group pottery production and consumption practices. Samples of coarse shell-tempered, undecorated rimsherds were drawn from four spatially-distinct and coeval areas within the site: two village "neighborhoods," and two mound contexts. Most samples were originally recovered in early 20th century excavations; thus, this research included reanalysis of legacy collections. Samples were also taken from recent excavations at Unit A, a supposed "Potter's House." A new pottery analysis methodology was developed and tested, which was inspired by prior pre-Columbian ceramic research, and designed to measure the extensive variability of technological styles in MPP production. Specifically, a detailed ceramic analysis was completed, resulting in the sorting of rimsherd samples into vessel shape and size categories, and the documentation of MPP morphological variability (e.g. varied rim angles, thicknesses, and lip shapes). Quantitative and qualitative analyses of MPP variability revealed culturally-meaningful patterns of variation linked to vessel type, size, and function, differential consumption practices at mound versus village locations, and small-group and individual production techniques and consumption preferences that support the hypothesis of spatially-distinct neighborhood communities of practice within Angel. Idiosyncratic variations in MPP also revealed aspects of personal identity for Angel pottery producers and consumers (e.g. skill level). The results of this dissertation complement prior studies of decorated pottery at Angel and other Mississippian sites that documented type/variety classifications, suggested chronological markers via pottery styles, and debated the presence of elite material and ideological control over material culture. This research is innovative as it addresses variation within a single pottery type (MPP), which is the most common material culture form on many Mississippian sites. Utilizing a theoretical frame in materiality, practice theory, and consumption, this research highlights the role of "ordinary" people and their objects in culture-making in Mississippian societies. Everyday actions that included the use and contextualization of material culture are shown to be significant practices in creating and transforming social processes, including social organizations, subsistence, and identity formation.