Life On The Frontier

The investigation of the village now known as Carter Robinson Mound in southwest Virginia is revealing details about life on the edge of the Mississippian world.

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Researchers excavate the middle structure of the three structures that were built on top of each other at Carter Robinson Mounds. Credit: JC Burns.
Researchers excavate the middle structure of the three structures that were built on top of each other at Carter Robinson Mounds. Credit: JC Burns.

Fall 2017: By Linda Vaccariello.

A few miles east of the narrow gap in the Cumberland Mountains where Daniel Boone and his companions blazed a trail into Kentucky, Maureen Meyers is puzzling over another group of settlers. Her subjects are the Mississippian people who built the Carter Robinson Mound and Village in western Virginia and occupied it for 150 years.

The Mississippian culture lasted from roughly A. D. 900 to 1500. The name comes from the Mississippi River Valley that was their stronghold, but these ancient people spread into other parts of the Southeastern U.S., too. The Carter Robinson Mound inhabitants came from Mississippian enclaves in Tennessee, “This was their frontier,” said Meyers, an archaeologist at  the University of Mississippi. “We know a lot about Mississippian culture, but not a lot about their interaction with others at the frontiers.”

Meyers’ work at Carter Robinson Mound focuses on the nature of life on the fringes of the Mississippian world. She wants to understand how the location influenced people’s activities. “Frontiers are important places to study because they are generally where people with different backgrounds interact, or that bridge other more densely settled areas,” said Barbara Mills, a University of Arizona archaeologist who is familiar  with  frontier research. “They may be conduits for information and resources and places with a high degree of innovation. Understanding social processes that occur on the edges helps to bring other areas into sharper focus.”

Meyers’ current project involves excavating part of the village where three structures were built sequentially, one on top of another. It is her fifth season at Carter Robinson Mound and village over the course of twelve years.  The mound was first identified in 1962 and was included in C.G. Holland’s Archeological Survey of Southwest Virginia. Published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1970, Holland’s work describes Carter Robinson as well as Ely Mound, a well-documented Mississippian site partially excavated by the Peabody Museum in 1877. (Ely Mound is now a preserve owned by  The Archaeological Conservancy.)

Excerpt.

Check out our Summer Sneak Peek “Covering the Mississippian Frontier at Carter Robinson”  photo blog for this article!

Read More in our FALL 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: Fall 2017 . Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, SUMMER 2017.

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