The following is an article excerpt from the Summer 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member to subscribe and read the full issue!
By Elizabeth Lunday
More than a thousand years ago, women living in today’s northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee formed networks of relationships that extended across these geographic regions and lasted for centuries. These relationships endured despite political turmoil in their society, providing their participants with a sense of stability and continuity.
That’s the picture painted by archaeologist Jacob Lulewicz of Washington University in St. Louis, who recently published a paper to this effect in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lulewicz employed social network analysis, a method of studying the structure of social relationships, to arrive at this conclusion. Originally developed in the 1930s by psychologists, social network analysis has become an important tool in fields as disparate as computer science and economics, history and epidemiology.
It might sound like an obscure social science technique, but the public is now familiar with the concepts underlying social network analysis. In the 1990s, many people became fascinated with the idea of “six degrees of separation” that proposes any two people in the world are linked by six or fewer social connections. Then in the 2000s, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter became ubiquitous. Archaeologists have discovered that social network analysis also has the potential to answer questions about the past, and Lulewicz is using it to look at the Mississippian people of Southern Appalachia from a new perspective.
COVER IMAGE: This bowl from northern Georgia with incised designs dates to the Late Mississippian period (A.D. 1450-1650). Incising became increasingly popular across both eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia after A.D. 1350, indicating the adoption of similar decorative practices across most of Southern Appalachia and the intensification of interactions between peoples living in the two regions. Nonetheless, incised vessels in northern Georgia were still primarily tempered with sand and grit while most incised vessels in eastern Tennessee were tempered with shell.
Credit: Jacob Lulewicz
This incised bowl was also found in northern Georgia. Though most of northern Georgia’s ceramics had sand and grit temper, with the increased use of incised decorations, more shell- tempered pottery also shows up in northern Georgia. This may be the result of more people from Tennessee moving into northern Georgia, or the adoption of new tempering technology by northern Georgia residents. The subtle difference in the specific designs incised into pottery, or the style of the incising, could also be indicative of social networks.
Credit: Jacob Lulewicz
Three examples of Etowah-style stamped sherds. These decorations—concentric diamonds with a bar or cross running through the center—were common during the 1050 – 1325 time period, as were other stamped designs. The decorations were carved into a wooden paddle that was used to stamp the vessel while the clay was still wet. | Credit: Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Collections of the Anthropology Division of the Florida Museum of Natural History, FLMNH Cat. Nos. 92-35-00121 (9Ck1); 92-35-00118 (9Br1); 92-35-00117 (9Br1)
These two sherds are examples of fine cord-marked ceramics. Cord-marked ceramics were more popular in eastern Tennessee than in northern Georgia. | Credit: Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Collections of the Anthropology Division of the Florida Museum of Natural History, FLMNH Cat. Nos. 92-35-00090 (UID Site); 92-35-00089 (UID Site)
“Lulewicz is elegantly showing us how to document relationships between Mississippian societies in the Southeast, focusing on common artifacts made and used by most people, and not just the elaborate artifacts used by a few elites,” said archaeologist David Anderson, a Mississippian expert at the University of Tennessee. “As such, he is showing us new ways to explore life in the past that I predict will be widely adopted across the Southeast in the years to come.”