Book Review – Rethinking Moundville and Its Hinterland

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Book Cover: Rethinking Moundville
Book Cover: Rethinking Moundville

Rethinking Moundville and Its Hinterland

Edited by Vincus P. Steponaitis and C. Margaret Scarry

(University Press of Florida, 2016; 344 pgs., illus., $75 cloth; www.upf.com)

Moundville, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is one of the largest prehistoric mound-builder complexes in the United States.  The central site contains some 29 earthen mounds located on the banks of the Black Warrior River that date from about A.D. 1100 to 1650, the time of the European colonization.  These mounds were platforms for religious structures and priestly residences, but the site was used in greatly differing ways over the course of 650 years.  Archaeologists call this culture Mississippian because it was centered in the greater Mississippi Valley south of St. Louis.  Of the Mississippian capitals, Moundville is second in size only to Cahokia, which is near St. Louis.

For its first 200 years Moundville grew rapidly, and most of the mounds were built as was a large wooden palisade that, along with the river, fully enclosed more than 150 acres of the central site.  After about A.D. 1300, most of the residents of Moundville dispersed to smaller villages in the surrounding fields and forests, and the site became a necropolis, a sacred place where the dead were brought for burial.  By 1650 it was abandoned.

This volume takes a new look at Moundville based on the past two decades of intensive, multifaceted research that includes archaeology, ethnohistory, iconography, ritual practices, and the relationship between Moundville and its surrounding hinterlands.  Fourteen noted scholars present their new conclusions in 12 notable essays. These insights have caused the authors to form a new model for Moundsville, recognizing it as a religious center and a place of pilgrimage. Rethinking Moundville is a very important contribution to the understanding of a great Native American center that brings fresh insights to a field of research that has troubled scholars for many decades.

Read all our current Book Reviews online and in our Spring Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 1

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