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Settlement Patterns: The Distribution of Family and Social Activities

Site prior to excavation

Site during stripping

Dark stains of pits and structures
Settlement patterns reveal a great deal of information on past economies, cultures, and social organizations (HDYK-SCTY). Variables examined to understand settlement patterns include:
  1. site location (sand ridge, bluff crest, stream edge, etc.),
  2. site size,
  3. number of residential structures present,
  4. the types of structures present at the sites (residences, special purpose structures, mounds, banda, hunting blind, etc.), and
  5. the types of artifacts recovered (which indicate people's activities at these sites and their season of occupation)
  6. .

The archaeological surveys and salvage excavations undertaken for construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway 255 and 270 during the early 1960's, late 1970's, and early 1980's provided an enormous amount of archaeological material and volumes of data. Particularly important are the settlement pattern data. While the site of Cahokia was known to be the largest Mississippian site containing the largest and greatest number of mounds in North America, very little else was known about Mississippian settlement patterns before this salvage work.

Archaeological collections at the Illinois State Museum

When archaeological materials were analyzed, some interesting relationships between of artifacts, residences, specialized structures, and site size were noted. It became apparent to Melvin Fowler, among others, that not all Mississippian sites are alike. Work by Fowler and by others since indicate that four to five types of Mississippian sites dot the American Bottom landscape:

  1. individual family farmsteads,
  2. nodal hamlets with one or more non-residential structures,
  3. villages and towns with mounds and other non-residential structures,
  4. densely populated small mound centers such as Lunsford-Pulcher, Mitchell, East St. Louis, and St. Louis with multiple mounds, a number of other special purpose structures, and
  5. the American Bottom paramount mound center - Cahokia.

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