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Society Theme Activities


A society refers to the relationship between various groups, their status, power, and function. The archaeologists must use the material record to make inferences about a peoples' political organization, differences in wealth, economic power, etc. Data important in understanding a society other than your own include the distribution of wealth, settlement patterns, and symbolism in art and religious objects. It includes defining patterns in the distribution, frequency, and size of public and private space, and the artifacts found in those places.

The following activities will help you review data and ideas presented above in the Society Theme as that in other themes. Many questions require use of material in the archives.

Essay Questions

  1. Describe the sexual division of labor in a Mississippian household. What is the evidence for this division?
  2. Describe the age-related division of labor in a Mississippian household. What is the evidence for this division?
  3. How would you go about classifying settlements according to their role in Mississippian society? Include in your discussion site size, duration, location, internal organization, and presence of public structures and special function features.
  4. As your answer to the above question should make clear, archaeologists often use the spatial distribution of large and small sites or sites of different functions to say something about how societies were organized and operated. What sorts of cultural and natural processes might confound the interpretation of observed site distribution patterns?
  5. One's status and power in a chiefdom are determined by kinship distance. Figure x is a hypothetical kinship diagram of a Mississippian chiefdom showing the various families relationship to the ancestral chief ("Diving Hawk"). All things being equal, if the present chief and his 3 sons die due to an epidemic, which of the remaining males in the Hawk clan will have the best opportunity to become the new chief?
  6. Given your understanding of Mississippian world view, describe what might have been the role of the (hypothetical) beaver clan in mound construction? What of the (again hypothetical) cawing crow clan?
  7. How has Mississippian culture influenced contemporary American culture and economic activities in the American Bottom?
  8. A large meteor strikes the earth creating temperatures that are hot enough to destroy all written and digital records. Needless to say other less durable aspects of our culture are also destroyed. 8a) How would an archaeologist of the future learn about your now dead society? 8b) Given that no books remain, how these future archaeologists understand the function of a grade school? Discuss what they would likely find and how a comparison to other structures and their contents might help them to understand the function of these buildings with many rooms containing small chairs and tables.

Observational Learning

  1. Define a settlement hierarchy based on a settlements shown on a county map. Ignore everything other than settlement size. What criteria did you use to define your hierarchy? What data would you want to obtain to refine the settlement hierarchy to reflect political power? Economic wealth? Religious activity?
  2. Develop a list of attributes about a person's home, yard, and driveway (that you can readily observe from the sidewalk please, no invasion of privacy here) that you feel reflects monetary wealth. Develop a ranking system for each attribute that you feel reflects relative wealth, i.e. large houses represent more wealth than a mobile home. With a map score the houses according to the attributes you defined. Sum the scores for a particular house and plot the score at the location of the house on your map. What patterns do you see?
  3. Examine the Milner's (1998) pottery type data from the central Mississippi River valley. How many distinct Mississippian groups or spheres of influence are represented? What do these data tell you about the extent of Cahokia's influence and power in the Central Mississippi River valley?

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