Warfare and the materialization of daily life at the mississippian common field site

Meghan Elizabeth Buchanan
Anthropology, Indiana University
June, 2016


As a period of relative peace associated with the founding of the Cahokia polity dissolved around AD 1150-1200, Mississippians living at Cahokia constructed fortifications, large portions of the population left the city, and walled compounds at the nearby East St. Louis site were destroyed in a large-scale conflagration event. Analyses and interpretations of the evidence for violence and warfare in the Mississippian Midwest have traditionally focused on the most overt manifestations of those phenomena: fortified community spaces, physical traumata, and symbols of violence like warriors, weapons of war, and severed body parts. However, historic and ethnographic accounts of peoples' lives and experiences during periods of war highlight that violence during politically and socially tumultuous times impacted the daily practices of wide swaths of people living in these societies. Carolyn Nordstrom (1997) advocates the telling of "a different kind of war story," one that focuses on human experiences, tragedies, and creativity in light of threats of danger. The Common Field site was founded by people leaving the Cahokia region during this period of political fragmentation and escalating violence. Shortly after settling at the site, the inhabitants constructed a fortification. A later catastrophic conflagration resulted in the burning of hundreds of structures, the destruction of a community, and the complete abandonment of the site. In this dissertation, I propose a theoretical and methodological framework for studying the intersections of violence and daily practices in archaeological contexts through an exploration of micro-scale actions (such as those enacted in histories of practices and embodied knowledge of technological processes) and macro-scale regional histories and practices in order to elucidate the multiple contexts and effects of violence and warfare in the past and their impacts on peoples' lived experiences. The data from Common Field demonstrate that the inhabitants of this site were engaged in processes of hybridity (with regards to ceramic technological practices and decorative techniques), moved resource procurement practices away from riverine contexts, and oriented themselves in new ways towards other regional communities and the supernatural realm.