Between plaza and palisade: Household and community organization at early Moundville (Alabama)

Gregory D. Wilson
Dept. of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
July, 2005


This dissertation examines issues of political consolidation and the origins of social inequality in the context of the early Mississippian Moundville chiefdom in west-central Alabama. Using a GIS-based approach I link large-scale architectural and artifactual datasets to examine variability in the composition of and relationships among early Mississippian households at the Moundville site. Specifically, I explore how everyday household activities and political negotiations generated relations of inequality at the political and ceremonial capital of the Moundville chiefdom. Overall this analysis has revealed that the early Mississippian Moundville community consisted of a number of spatially discrete multi-household groups. This form of multi-household organization is similar to ethnohistorically described kin groups from the early Historic southeastern United States. Hosting feasts, dances, and other ceremonial events were important strategies by which elite households created social debts and legitimized their positions of authority. Non-elite households, on the other hand, maintained considerable economic and ritual autonomy through diversified production activities, risk sharing, and household ceremonialism.