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Environment Theme Activities

Knowledge of the environment is critical to understanding an archaeological record for two related reasons. First, the environment of a place and changes in the landscape through time selectively preserve and destroy archaeological sites. For example, knowledge that Mississippian sites are not found in certain parts of the valley in meaningless unless you know the landform in that part of the valley was available for Mississippians to occupy. Second, the environment offers insights to the cultural and social decisions any group of people make. That is, it presents both opportunities and risks to people that change through time as the environment changes and that change as new social systems and technologies develop. In essence the environment often sets boundary conditions for many of the social and cultural decisions a people make to adapt to and utilize resources.

The following questions and activities encourage you to think about how opportunities and risks associated with living in the valley may change through time and from one location to another. They also encourage you to consider how environmental variables influence human decision-making.

Essay Questions

  1. How do we know that the Mississippi River has changed its course through time?
  2. Describe a modern river environment. What might this place look like after the existing river channel is abandoned? What plants and animal would utilize the new habitats here?
  3. Draw a cross-section of a meander loop and associated landforms. Label all landforms. Describe the vegetation found on each landform.
  4. Given what you know about the geomorphology of the American Bottom, name three landforms where you would want to build a house. Why would you build your home on these three landforms? What three landforms would not make very good places to live? Why?
  5. Given what you know about the high and low sinuosity channel areas of the American Bottom, in which area would you be unlikely to find sites older than a few hundred years? Where would older sites be located?
  6. What sort of depositional environments in the American Bottom are likely to preserve archaeological sites?
  7. What sort of depositional environments in the American Bottom are likely to destroy archaeological sites?
  8. Compare Milner's GLO wetlands map with modern maps of the area. What does this map tell you about Euro-American activities in the American Bottom?
  9. Discuss the effects of euroamerican activity on plant and animal communities in the American Bottom.
  10. Discuss the opportunities the American Bottom environment presented Mississippian people. How did they take advantage of these opportunities?
  11. Discuss the seasonal risks and hardships posed by living in the American Bottom?

Observational Learning

  1. Plan a week's meals based on wild and cultivated resources available to a Mississippian farmstead in the early summer.
  2. Take a 2-3 day summer camping trip to the Oakwoods Bottoms, Shawnee National Forest, in southern Illinois. Then take a 2-3 day summer camping trip to the Trail of Tears State Forest campground on the bluffs above the bottoms. Based on comfort alone, where would you rather live? What does your experience tell you about the importance of culture, economy, and socio-politics?

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