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ISSN 1059-0161, Volume 18, Number 4

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J Archaeol Res (2010) 18:331–385Author's personal copy
DOI 10.1007/s10814-010-9040-z

Household Archaeology in the Southeastern United


States: History, Trends, and Challenges

Thomas J. Pluckhahn

Published online: 30 March 2010


 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Abstract This review highlights archaeological investigations of prehistoric and


historic households in southeastern North America. There are a number of inherent
challenges to the archaeology of households in the region, including generally poor
preservation and a long history of relatively insubstantial domestic architecture. An
appraisal of the historical development of household archaeology developed slowly
in the Southeast, largely in reaction to trends in other areas of the world. Over the
last decade, however, southeastern archaeologists have been at the vanguard of the
application of new approaches to households. From an early focus on generalizable
patterns of domestic activities and behavior, researchers increasingly view house-
holds as historical constructs situated within larger landscapes. Prominent areas of
concern include enduring issues such as status variation, production, and con-
sumption but also newer themes such as gender, identity and ethnicity, agency and
power, and ritual and symbolism. Some of the most innovative studies explore the
intersections of these topics. Conceptual and methodological challenges remain, but
the household endures as a practical and productive focus of analysis and inter-
pretation for southeastern archaeologists more than 30 years after household
research in the area began.

Keywords Households  Southeastern United States  Status  Identity 


Agency  Ritual  Production

T. J. Pluckhahn (&)
Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave, SOC107, Tampa,
FL 33620, USA
e-mail: tpluckha@cas.usf.edu

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Introduction

The subfield of archaeology devoted to households began more than three decades
ago. Along the way, household archaeology has contributed to the development of a
diversity of theoretical movements—processual and neo-evolutionary, postproces-
sual, processual plus, historical processual, and selectionist or Darwinian
approaches to archaeology. Emerging from settlement pattern studies focused
mainly at larger scales, the household persists as a practical and productive level of
analysis even as emphasis has shifted to the broader social and spatial scales of
community and landscape (Ashmore 2002; Brandon and Barile 2004, p. 6).
Commentators have pointed to several advantages the household perspective
provides for understanding the human past. First, the household is the fundamental
social unit in many human communities (Allison 1999, p. 1; Ashmore and Wilk
1988, p. 1; Franklin 2004, p. xiii; Hirth 1993a, p. 21; Robin 2003, p. 308; Santley
and Hirth 1993, p. 3), providing a window on the everyday life of individuals. This
articulates well with divergent research interests, from functionalist and behavio-
ralist approaches that focus on patterns of activities, to postprocessual approaches
that emphasize contextualized agency and practice. For some, the seeming ubiquity
of households also provides a ready-made framework for comparative analyses
through time and space (Blanton 1994; Hirth 1993a, p. 21; Wilk and Netting 1984,
p. 1).
The household is often described as a social formation that can be identified
archaeologically (Hirth 1993a, p. 21). This perception stems partly from an overly
simplistic equating of households with the material remains of houses (Rogers
1995a, p. 9; Wilk and Rathje 1982, p. 620). It also reflects the recognition that
households are social groups with a material presence, defined not only by buildings
but also by the remains of routine activities and habitual practices. Many
archaeologists subscribe to the widely repeated definition of the household as
‘‘the smallest grouping with the maximum corporate function’’ (Hammel 1980,
p. 251), defined to include some combination of production, consumption,
reproduction, and coresidence (Ashmore and Wilk 1988, p. 6). Identifying the
material correlates of these practices is almost never straightforward (Rogers 1995a,
pp. 9–10). Nevertheless, the household is a more discrete and definable unit of
analysis than larger and more permeable social formations such as the community or
polity (Gerritsen 2004, p. 143; Isbell 2000; Marcus 2000).
Next, it has been suggested that the household offers ‘‘a theoretically informed
counterweight’’ (Gerritsen 2004, p. 143) to the large-scale systems and processes
that are frequently invoked by archaeologists to explain social and cultural change
(see also Robin 2003, p. 308; Wilson 2008, p. 8). As Gerritsen (2004, p. 143) notes,
these grand narratives by definition refer to temporal and spatial scales that were
largely meaningless to the people involved in those changes. For some, an
advantage of the household focus is that it allows archaeologists to narrate ‘‘smaller
stories’’ that more closely express the lived experiences of past peoples (Gerritsen
2004, p. 143). For others, the household provides a sort of mid-level theory between
artifacts and grand narratives, or between people and processes (Wilk and Rathje
1982, p. 617).

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More narrowly, the household affords an alternative to the traditional archae-


ological focus on elites, monumental architecture, and prestige-goods exchange
(Gerritsen 2004, p. 143; Robin 2003, pp. 316–322; Sabloff and Ashmore 2001,
p. 22). While the residences of elites are studied as well, ubiquity alone dictates that
much of the focus of household archaeology is on commoner households. Further, a
significant strand in household archaeology draws comparisons between households
to illuminate variation in status, thus ensuring investigation of a range of statuses.
Finally, the household is a social formation to which many archaeologists can
easily relate. We all have experienced life in some form of household. The same
cannot be said for many of the other social formations we study, such as clans,
chiefdoms, or even—in increasingly urbanized North America—smaller commu-
nities like villages.
Households emerged as a research topic among archaeologists in the context of
settlement pattern studies of the 1970s and 1980s, principally among scholars
working in Mesoamerica (e.g., Ashmore and Wilk 1988, p. 7; Deal 1985; Flannery
1976; Robin 2003, p. 308; Sabloff and Ashmore 2001, p. 22; Wilk and Rathje 1982).
The initial interest in households stemmed largely from a desire to better understand
the full range of settlement types, seen as a necessary corrective to a long-standing
bias toward monumental architecture. Early treatments of households fit squarely in
the processual paradigm (Gerritsen 2004, p. 142; Sabloff and Ashmore 2001, p. 22).
Households were viewed as basic building blocks of larger social formations, as
points of articulation between societies and economic and ecological processes, and
as windows on evolutionary change.
Since the 1980s, household archaeology has reflected and contributed to the
development of the diversity of alternative theoretical approaches commonly
subsumed under the banner of postproccesualism. Processual treatments of
prehistoric and historic archaeological households have not disappeared; however,
essentializing studies have faded in favor of ‘‘more nuanced and interpretive studies
that seek to understand people, practices, and meanings in the past’’ (Robin 2003,
p. 308). The household has emerged as a prime focus for the consideration of gender
and ethnicity, as well as identity more broadly. Households and their members are
increasingly invoked as agents both purposive and unwitting.
Longer and more detailed accounts of the historical development of household
archaeology have appeared in a number of places (Allison 1999; Hendon 1996).
More specific treatments have also been presented for a number of different regions,
including the Maya area (Robin 2003), western Mesoamerica (Santley and Hirth
1993), Andean South America (Nash 2009), and the coast of the northwestern
United States and western Canada (Ames et al. 2008; Sobel et al. 2006). Here I
critically assess the theory and practice of household archaeology in the
southeastern United States.
The archaeology of households in the Southeast faces a number of challenges. In
contrast to some areas of the world, households—at least in a restricted sense of a
coresident group—may have emerged relatively late in prehistory (see discussion
below). In addition, the identification of households in the Southeast is frequently
confounded by generally poor preservation conditions and the use of perishable
building materials and relatively insubstantial architecture by prehistoric indigenous

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peoples and historic colonizers. Nevertheless, after a slow start, archaeologists in the
Southeast have actively engaged the concept of households in new and innovative
ways.
After briefly reviewing the development of the household approach in the
Southeast, I identify six themes in the literature of the past decade: production and
consumption, status differentiation, agency and power, gender, ritual and symbol-
ism, and identity and ethnicity. These themes largely mirror the interests of
archaeologists studying households in other areas of the world (Robin 2003).
Critical examination reveals similarities and differences in the way southeastern
archaeologists have approached these themes relative to their colleagues elsewhere,
leading to the identification of specific areas in which archaeologists in the
Southeast should either read more broadly or, conversely, be more broadly read.
Within the community of southeastern archaeologists, I point to areas where
prehistoric and historic archaeologists could benefit from greater dialogue.
This review complements an earlier overview of the archaeology of prehistoric
households in the region by Rogers (1995a), as well as the more recent overview of
the archaeology of historic-era households by Brandon and Barile (2004). With the
exception of the historical overview, I focus primarily on works published in the last
decade. I omit most theses, conference papers, and cultural resource management
reports due to their limited accessibility. In doing so, I undoubtedly neglect a
significant portion of the active research on households, a point to which I return in
the concluding section.
To incorporate the diversity of treatments in the literature, I subscribe to a broad
definition of the household as an activity group engaging in one or more of the
following practices: production, consumption or distribution, reproduction, cores-
idence, and transmission (Ashmore and Wilk 1988, p. 4; Wilk and Netting 1984,
p. 5). Though decidedly functionalist in orientation, this definition moves us away
from a formal definition and toward a more flexible focus ‘‘…on the actions and
interactions of people through household co-membership and cooperation in a set of
practices’’ (Souvatzi 2008, p. 10). As a number of ethnographic studies have
demonstrated, coresidence is often but not always associated with households.
Young (2003) provides an example of an exception to coresidence in the Southeast
with her discussion of the ‘‘abroad marriages’’ known to have taken place among
African slaves, wherein married spouses lived on different plantations (reportedly a
fairly common occurrence where slaveholdings were smaller, such as Kentucky).
Conversely, coresident groups may be composed of multiple households or form
parts of larger households. The latter pattern is exemplified in the Southeast by the
matrilocal, multiple-family households of the Creeks that are documented
ethnographically in the early 20th century (Hally 2008, p. 273; Swanton 1928,
pp. 170–171).
Although a broad definition of households is necessary to incorporate the
diversity of ethnographic and historical forms, this definition may not be practical
archaeologically. Certainly, when dwellings are positioned within compounds or
arranged tightly around small plazas or courtyards, we may be able to discern the
presence of households composed of multiple dwellings (Nash 2009, p. 218). The
presence of multiple households within a single dwelling may be identified through

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the presence of redundant cooking, storage, and processing facilities and artifacts
(Nash 2009, p. 225). However, if members of a household are dispersed across a
settlement or across different settlements, this will be difficult or impossible to
identify archaeologically. Nash (2009, p. 224) thus proposes a more restricted
definition of the ‘‘archaeological household’’ as a ‘‘…coresidential group that used
the occupation surface, features, and the artifact assemblage of a dwelling,’’ with
dwelling defined to include one or more structures and both indoor and outdoor
spaces. Some scholars in the Southeast have recognized the importance of coresi-
dence as a dimension of archaeological households (e.g., Wesson 2008, pp. 10–13),
but the tension between the broader, activity-based definition of household and this
more restricted conceptualization focusing on the dwelling and associated artifacts
and features runs throughout much of the household archaeology conducted in the
region. I return to this issue at several points below.
I take a flexible approach to the geographic definition of the Southeast. Among
scholars of the native societies of the Southeast, there has been some disagreement
regarding the limits of the region (see Smith 1986, p. 2). Hudson (1976, p. 5) defines
the Southeast as bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Gulf of Mexico on
the south, the dry country beyond the Trinity River in Texas on the west, and the
colder climate of the upper Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys on the north (see
also Swanton 1946, pp. 11–12). So defined, the region includes the present states of
Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and
Tennessee, as well as western North Carolina, eastern Texas and Oklahoma, and the
portions of Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky that border the Mississippi River. Some
would extend the boundary to the northeast to incorporate eastern North Carolina,
Virginia, and portions of Maryland and West Virginia (Smith 1986, p. 2), a
definition I follow in this review where appropriate. This more expansive
geographical definition of the region takes on greater relevance with discussion
of the historic era, when a plantation political economy extended as far north as
Maryland and as far west as eastern Texas (Genovese 1961; Simpkins 1965).

A history of household archaeology in the Southeast

Southeastern archaeologists have long expressed interest in houses as temporal,


cultural, and evolutionary markers. House patterns appear prominently in the
descriptions of various cultural-historical foci, aspects, phases, and complexes (e.g.,
contributors to Griffin 1952). However, there was little consideration of the social
groups that might have lived within these structures. In the rare instances where
such consideration was granted, it was usually limited to vague notions of ‘‘family’’
(e.g., Caldwell 1958, p. 9; Lewis and Kneberg 1958, pp. 41, 158; but see Ford et al.
1955, p. 56). Credit for the first contemporary use of the term ‘‘household’’ in the
archaeology of the region goes to Milanich (1974), who employed it in reference to
his excavations at the Late Woodland Sycamore site in northern Florida. Still,
Milanich’s emphasis was on domestic architecture rather than the domestic group.
Something more closely resembling an archaeology of households in the sense of
a coresident group sharing certain productive and reproductive functions emerged in

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the Southeast in the context of settlement pattern studies of the late 1970s. Perhaps
most notable is Smith’s (1978b) work at Gypsy Joint, a Powers phase (A.D. 1250–
1400) (O’Brien 1995, 2001, p. 16) Mississippian site in southeastern Missouri.
Smith was concerned with understanding the functional role of a typical ‘‘smaller-
than-village’’ site, the smallest segment of the Powers phase settlement hierarchy.
The ultimate goal, however, was to develop a predictive model of the cultural
system of the Powers phase human population (Smith 1978b, p. 15). Smith
excavated two domestic structures and nine pit features in an excavation block
measuring around 10,000 m2. Artifact distributions were analyzed to identify
activity areas, which were compared to those described in a broad range of
ethnohistoric records and cross-cultural ethnographic data sets. Smith concluded
that the site represented a ‘‘nuclear family homestead’’ comprising five to seven
adult and subadult males and females.
In a similar vein, some historical archaeologists in the Southeast began focusing
on domestic units to understand larger patterns of settlement and cultural change
and diversity. South (1977, pp. 86–87) conceived of households as subsets of larger
systems, the latter imposing on each household a degree of uniformity. As Brandon
and Barile (2004, p. 4) note, for South this uniformity provided the foundation for
the generation of ‘‘household patterns’’ of material culture that could, in turn, be
used to formulate still more generalized observations regarding the process of
cultural evolution (see South 1977, pp. 2–5). Although less explicitly ‘‘household’’
in perspective, Otto (1975, 1980, 1984) searched for status-related variation in
plantation, overseer, and slave housing and material culture at Cannon’s Point
Plantation on the coast of Georgia. Otto’s research was framed mainly as a
corrective to the biases of written histories, but the contribution to archaeological
settlement pattern studies also was noted (Otto 1975, pp. 7–8).
These early engagements with archaeological households were products of their
time in some respects, but innovative and precocious in others. The normative
tendencies were consistent with the aims of processual archaeology. Yet, in
adopting the household as a unit of analysis, Smith and South were almost unique
among their peers. The landmark volume Mississippian Settlement Patterns (Smith
1978a), for example, contains a few fleeting references to ‘‘households,’’
‘‘homesteads,’’ and ‘‘farmsteads,’’ but the thrust of the book was understanding
larger communities and regions. Indeed, Smith (1978c, pp. 499–500) noted that
there were only a dozen excavated examples of the ‘‘homestead settlement type,’’
making it difficult to understand the variety and types of activities that were
associated with these settlements or the size and composition of the ‘‘occupying
group.’’
In the 1980s, the idea of the household as a productive focus of analysis gained
greater currency among southeastern archaeologists. Several early studies in this
vein took advantage of artifact assemblages associated with houses that had met
catastrophic fates. Hally (1983a, b, 1984, 1986), for example, studied vessel form
and use-wear in domestic assemblages from the Little Egypt site in Georgia and
compared them to ethnohistoric descriptions to reconstruct the pottery assemblage
associated with a Barnett phase (A.D. 1550–1700) Mississippian household.
Building on Hally’s work, Shapiro (1984) compared ceramic assemblages from

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Mississippian sites of varying size to understand how vessel size and form
correlated with permanence of occupation. Similarly, Pauketat (1987b, 1989)
studied ceramics from a burned building at Cahokia and used the data to determine
estimates for the length of occupation of Mississippian homesteads.
Expanded treatments of the household concept appeared in dissertations focusing
on Mississippian households in the hinterlands of Cahokia (Mehrer 1988; Oetelaar
1987), southern Ohio (Nass 1987), eastern Tennessee (Sullivan 1986), and western
Kentucky (Stout 1989). Over the next few years, studies employing a focus on
prehistoric households appeared in print with greater regularity (e.g., Braun 1991;
Hargrave 1991; Nassaney and Hoffman 1992; Pauketat and Woods 1986; Peregrine
1992; Polhemus 1990; Riggs 1989; Smith 1990, 1992; Sullivan 1989). Sullivan
(1987) appears to have been the first to make extensive use of the household
perspective in the pages of the regional journal, Southeastern Archaeology, with her
study of the households of Mouse Creek phase (15th to 16th century) in eastern
Tennessee (but see contributions in the same issue by Johnson [1987] and Pauketat
1987b).
Historical archaeologists in the Southeast also engaged with archaeological
households in the 1980s, albeit perhaps with less regularity than their colleagues
studying prehistory. Singleton (1980), Shephard (1984), and King (1990) considered
differences in wealth and status among households in antebellum Georgia, Virginia,
and Maryland, respectively. Stewart-Abernathy (1986, 1987) applied a household
perspective to urban and rural farmsteads in Arkansas.
In 1993, Sanders proclaimed that with the appearance of several themed volumes
and syntheses, Mesoamerican household archaeology had finally ‘‘come of age’’
(Sanders 1993). If one were to look for such a milestone in the development of
household archaeology in the Southeast, the likely candidate would be Mississip-
pian Communities and Households (Rogers and Smith 1995). In his introductory
chapter, Rogers (1995a) pointed to five themes (spatial analysis, social dynamics,
population dynamics, subsistence, and economic activities) that he saw as
characteristic of household studies generally and as currents exemplified in the
work of contributors to the volume. Several of the contributors reviewed and
summarized earlier research (Mehrer and Collins 1995; Nass and Yerkes 1995;
Sullivan 1995). New syntheses and detailed case studies were presented for
Mississippian households in the Arkansas Basin of Oklahoma (Rogers 1995b), the
Oconee Valley in Georgia (Hatch 1995; Williams 1995), the Black Warrior Valley
in Alabama (Mistovich 1995), the Tombigbee Valley in Alabama and Mississippi
(Jackson and Scott 1995), and northern Florida (Scarry 1995). Smith (1995, p. 225)
noted that about 20 additional Mississippian homesteads had been excavated in the
two decades following his work at the Gypsy Joint site, with the majority of these
excavations stemming from compliance-related cultural resource management
studies.
As in the first generation of household archaeology studies more broadly, the
southeastern examples from the years up to around 1995 generally displayed
decidedly processualist orientations, with attendant functionalist, behavioralist, and
evolutionary leanings. Considerable attention was devoted to the spatial organiza-
tion of domestic activities, with an eye toward the definition of patterns of behavior

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that could be generalized to whole regions or time periods (e.g., King 1990; Nass
1987; Oetelaar 1987; Polhemus 1990, 1998; Stout 1989; Sullivan 1986, 1987, 1989,
1995). Economic and status differentiation constituted the major areas of interest.
Historical archaeologists concerned themselves mainly with documenting syn-
chronic variation in status in particular locales (e.g., Otto 1975, 1980, 1984;
Singleton 1980), although some also examined variation across time (e.g., King
1990; Singleton 1985). Among prehistoric archaeologists, the household was often
viewed as a building block for larger social formations and a useful starting point for
understanding changes taking place at larger social, spatial, and temporal scales.
Temporal changes were generally framed in terms of social evolutionary stages,
particularly the transition from egalitarian to ranked sociopolitical organization
(e.g., Mistovich 1995; Peregrine 1992). Some studies applied a more literal
evolutionary (Darwinian or selectionist) perspective to households and their
material culture (Braun 1991; Hargrave 1991).
The building-block approach that characterizes many of the studies from that era
has been severely criticized (Cobb 2000, pp. 187–188; McGuire 1992, pp. 159–160;
Pauketat 1997b, 2000, 2007; Tringham 1991) and thus merits additional discussion.
Polhemus (1990, p. 128) provided what may be the most explicit use of this
framework in his analysis of Dallas phase Mississippian households in eastern
Tennessee dating from around A.D. 1300 to 1625. He described the archaeological
correlate of the household as the ‘‘minimal settlement unit,’’ comprising ‘‘those
tangible elements required to maintain a discrete social group within its
environment’’ (Polhemus 1990, p. 28). Such households combined to form larger
aggregates, which in turn combined to form towns (Polhemus 1990, Figure 20).
Similarly, Smith (1992, p. 213) described the ‘‘Hopewellian Household Unit,’’ an
economically self-sufficient, nuclear-extended family group that formed ‘‘the basic
building blocks of Hopewellian [A.D. 0–200] farming communities.’’
As Pauketat (2000, 2007, pp. 45–46) has argued, the building-block approach
reduces households to ‘‘static and uniform organizational units.’’ Variation among
households is minimized to facilitate comparison across regions and periods,
reducing them to ‘‘faceless, genderless, categories’’ (Tringham 1991, p. 101). These
analyses typically define households by economic activities that are removed from
their political contexts. Polhemus’s (1990, Figure 20) building-block diagram, for
example, describes the town as the ‘‘minimal political unit,’’ thus implying that
households were apolitical. This approach leads to the conception of households as
self-sufficient, independent, and autonomous (McGuire 1992, p. 160; Pauketat
2007, pp. 45–46). Missing is the realization that ‘‘households are always connected
to each other, and penetrated by other affiliations through age, kinship, gender, and
class’’ (Wilk 1989, p. 26).
A number of studies from that era pointed the way to a more nuanced,
historicized, and politicized understanding of archaeological households in the
Southeast. Jackson and Scott (1995), through a comparison of faunal remains at two
sites in the Tombigbee Valley in Mississippi, built a case for the provisioning of
venison to Mississippian elites at major centers by commoners at outlying
homesteads. Rogers (1995b) described the manner in which households in the
Arkansas Basin became increasingly ‘‘compartmentalized’’ over the course of the

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Mississippian period in relation to changes in kinship structure, the decreasing role


of family-level social mechanism, and the expanding role of supralocal forms of
control.
The clearest break with the processual, building-block approach to households
took place among historic archaeologists in the Southeast. Two works are
particularly noteworthy. First, Deagan (1983) compared a sample of households
in 16th-century St. Augustine stratified by ethnicity and economic status, revealing
the important roles that ideology and identity played in the organization of Spanish
colonial households. These topics would not gain greater traction in the archaeology
of the Southeast for another decade. Next, Leone (1984) studied the estate of
William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the wealthiest
citizens of colonial-era Annapolis, Maryland. His analysis revealed the manner in
which ideology was employed to naturalize relationships of inequality, in this case
through its incorporation into the garden surrounding Paca’s house.
Of course, as Cobb (2000, pp. 187–188) observes, the divide between the
building-block approach and these more historical, contextual perspectives need not
be framed in terms of right versus wrong. The former approach provides a
framework for comparative studies but obscures potentially important historical
variation. The latter perspective has the potential to illuminate subtle variations but
is less conducive to comparison. Moreover, even among some who employed a
building-block approach, there was a foreshadowing of themes that would soon
become more prominent. Polhemus (1990, 1998) and Sullivan (1986, 1987, 1989,
1995), for example, provided an early focus on gender divisions within households.
Further, Polhemus (1990, pp. 133–134) noted a strong tendency for Dallas phase
structures to be oriented with the direction of the winter solstice, thus inferring a
‘‘level of planning and social control not previously recognized’’ (Polhemus 1990,
p. 132). This finding is echoed in recent interpretations of Cahokia, where houses
were realigned according to a master plan (Collins 1997; Pauketat 2004a, p. 80).
These and other emerging themes found greater voice in Hendon’s (1996)
prescient commentary on archaeological approaches to the organization of domestic
labor. Drawing from feminist, agency, and practice theories, Hendon called for
greater attention to the social actors who formed households, including the
discordant relationships among household members divided by age, gender, role,
and power. ‘‘The prehistoric and ancient household must be seen as politicized as
the modern one,’’ in both its internal and external relations she noted (Hendon 1996,
p. 55). In terms of methodology, Hendon (1996, p. 46) argued that rather than
continuing to focus on activities alone, archaeologists would do well to recognize
the ‘‘idea’’ (or symbolic construction) of the household. Commenting on the
tendency toward generalization among household archaeologists, she observed that
treating a small sample of dwellings as representative of a time period or region
‘‘begs the issue of variability’’ (Hendon 1996, p. 55). Hendon’s article contains no
references to any archaeological studies in the Southeast. This undoubtedly reflects
a lower profile for the field of southeastern archaeology relative to today. However,
the lack of references to the Southeast also demonstrates the generally conservative
nature of the practice of household archaeology in the region before 1996.

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Brandon and Barile (2004, p. 6) have noted that studies conducted under an
explicit household perspective seem to have faded in recent years as interest has
shifted to the larger social and spatial scales of community and landscape (e.g.,
Battle 2004a, b; Canuto and Yaeger 2000; Rotman and Savulis 2003; Young 2000).
As they also observe, however, many of the studies conducted at broader scales
‘‘still rely on household data or have households deeply embedded in their
matrices’’ (Brandon and Barile 2004, p. 6). This is evident in several recent edited
volumes on the archaeology of landscapes in the Southeast, wherein households
figure prominently and landscape is generally defined in relatively narrow terms
such as yards and spaces between houses (Rotman and Savulis 2003; Young 2000).
In their commentary on one of these volumes, Mullins and Klein (2000, p. 237)
suggest that archaeologists working in urban settings in the Southeast would do well
to focus more on households, given the complexities of larger units of analysis like
landscape.
One measure of continuing interest in households in the Southeast is provided by
a search of dissertations that mention ‘‘household’’ and ‘‘archaeology’’ in their
abstracts (Figs. 1, 2). This analysis—admittedly imperfect in that it omits several
relevant dissertations (e.g., Boudreaux 2005; Pluckhahn 2002; Stine 1989; Young
1995)—points to an increase in the number of studies incorporating households as

Fig. 1 Map of the southeastern United States showing locations mentioned in the text

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Fig. 2 Number of dissertations in southeastern archaeology mentioning the words ‘‘household’’ and
‘‘archaeology’’ in their abstracts (based on search of Dissertation and Theses Database, ProQuest LLC)

units of analysis or interpretation from 1996 to 1999. Since 1999, the pace has
slowed but has nevertheless remained steady. Notably, a greater percentage of the
dissertations completed from 1996 to the present focus on historic-era households,
reversing the trend from 1982 to 1995 that favored studies of prehistoric households.
It could be said that southeastern archaeologists have moved from an
‘‘archaeology of households’’ to the archaeological reconstruction of ‘‘pasts with
households,’’ reflecting the siting of households within larger social and spatial
landscapes rather than as isolated and bounded units of study. Studies focusing
primarily on architecture continue (e.g., contributors to Lacquement 2007a), as do
analyses seeking to identify general patterns of domestic remains and behavior (e.g.,
Burks 2004; Gougeon 2002, 2007). Evolutionary approaches to households—
particularly those incorporating signaling theory—also continue (e.g., Galle 2006).
There is an increasing tendency, however, to look at households ‘‘…not as a stage or
level of evolution, or as a fundamental social unit, but as unique historical
constructs’’ (McGuire 1992, p. 160). Increasingly, households are granted agency as
political—not simply economic or biological—actors. In addition, greater attention
is granted to variation both within and among households.
This historicized and politicized perspective is applied to many of the same
topics that have long characterized studies of archaeological households in the
Southeast, such as production, consumption, and status differentiation. However,
these themes are increasingly matched by household studies focusing on agency and
power, gender, ritual and symbolism, and identity and ethnicity. In the sections that
follow, I consider how these themes have been approached by archaeologists

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studying households in the Southeast. These categories structure the discussion but
are obviously not mutually exclusive; many of the most interesting studies examine
the intersections of these and other themes.

Household production and consumption

Production and consumption constitute enduring themes in the archaeology of


households. This is to be expected, given that these are two of the functions that
archaeologists have traditionally used to define households (Ashmore and Wilk
1988, p. 6). What is notable is that much of the literature on these topics focuses not
on domestic subsistence production but on specialized production for exchange. As
Hendon (1996, p. 49) notes, this interest stems largely from the role that
specialization is assumed to have played in evolution from simple to complex
societies. The sponsorship of specialized production and the control of valuables are
seen as important components of the legitimation of status and power, two
additional areas of household research described in more detail below.
The tendency to use specialization as a proxy for social complexity is manifest in
early debate regarding possible household craft production at Cahokia (e.g., Muller
1997, pp. 342–346). Briefly, Yerkes’s (1983, 1989) identification of microliths used
in the manufacture of shell beads prompted Prentice’s (1983, 1985) suggestion that
this production was organized as a ‘‘cottage industry’’ among farmsteads in the
American Bottom region of Illinois. This interpretation was rebutted by archaeol-
ogists of very diverse theoretical persuasions (Milner 1990; Muller 1984, 1997;
Pauketat 1987a, 1997c). The debate broadened to encompass related issues: whether
production was truly specialized or simply localized; whether it was undertaken by
specialists subsidized by (attached to) elites or by elites themselves; and whether the
scale of production rose to the level of ‘‘craft’’ or simply reflected the sort of part-
time, auxiliary activities common to households. These arguments were pervaded
by broader philosophical divisions regarding the size and complexity of Cahokia.
The possibility of specialization also is debated for the Moundville chiefdom on
the Black Warrior River in Alabama, dating to the Mississippian period. Welch
(1991) suggests that production of certain craft items may have been limited to
specialists under the control of elites at Moundville. Blitz (1993) argues that this
model is not applicable to contemporaneous polities along the Tombigbee River
west of Moundville, finding that ‘‘part-time, low-level production’’ of prestige
goods was probably a widespread domestic activity. Welch’s claim (1991, pp. 164–
165) for the centralized production of utilitarian greenstone celts at Moundville is
further criticized by Wilson (2001), who argues that the ubiquity of these artifacts in
domestic refuse deposits throughout the Black Warrior Valley suggests instead that
they were ‘‘common household possessions.’’ Similarly, Marcoux (2007) compares
grave goods from contexts associated with the peak of Moundville’s power (around
A.D. 1300–1450), finding little support for the existence of a prestige goods
economy; instead, production of display goods appears to have been a small-scale
practice limited mainly to the context of elite households at Moundville.

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Households figure prominently in arguments regarding specialization at


Moundville and Cahokia but by and large only as abstract and homogeneous
entities; household-based production was either specialized or not, attached or
independent, centralized or dispersed, elite or commoner. More recent approaches
grant the possibility of greater diversity in household production and recognize
some blurring of these categories (Blitz 1993, pp. 154–155; Cobb 2000, 2003;
Trubitt 1996, 2000). Alt (1999), for example, has noted an uneven distribution of
spindle whorls in features and sites in the American Bottom during the Lohmann
phase (A.D. 1050–1100). She suggests that while fiber production may have been a
normal household activity, some households practiced more intensive production
than others, perhaps in response to the need for more markers of rank and ritual
following the founding of Cahokia.
Alt’s study highlights the need to consider not only the diversity of household
craft production but also the individual circumstances that can lead to its
intensification, a topic too little considered by southeastern archaeologists. As
Costin (2001, p. 301) observes, in the case of some households this may involve
differential access to resources, exchange networks, or ritual performances, while in
other cases specialization was a strategy to cope with the lack of resources and
privileges. Even granting that household-based craft production was directed to
some degree by the upper echelons of Mississippian societies, recent work outside
the region and on other periods within the Southeast suggests that elites are often not
uniformly successful in co-opting domestic production systems and that ‘‘artisans
can successfully pressure elites and institutions for concessions of many sorts’’
(Costin 2001, p. 308). For example, Galle’s (2004) analysis of the household of an
enslaved seamstress at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Plantation reveals a higher
abundance of items of personal adornment and recreation not provisioned to slaves.
It would thus appear that this seamstress was able to parlay her craft skills into a
greater degree of economic autonomy for her household. It would be surprising if
Mississippian and earlier households in the Southeast were not equally creative in
using artisanal skills to their advantage.
The breadth of studies of craft specialization in the Southeast should be enlarged
to consider its articulation with domestic production and effects on intrahousehold
social relations. Hendon (1996, p. 52) notes that even part-time craft production
‘‘must result in reallocations of time and responsibility for specialists and other
household members alike.’’ Thus specialized and domestic tasks should not be
treated in isolation from one another (Hendon 1996, p. 55; see also Allison 1999, p. 8,
Cobb 2000, pp. 186–189; Costin 2001, p. 310; Hagstrum 2001, pp. 50–51). In the
Southeast, this realization is perhaps best exemplified by Thomas’s (1997, 2001)
study of the domestic economies at three Mississippian communities in the American
Bottom: Dillow’s Ridge, which was involved in the production of Mill Creek chert
hoes; Bonnie Creek, which does not appear to have engaged in specialized
production for exchange; and the Great Salt Spring, where there is evidence of salt
production. Thomas found that hoe production at Dillow’s Ridge did not affect the
domestic economy because of the low intensity of production; the work was
presumably conducted by men who were less involved in domestic work (see also
Cobb 2000, pp. 186–190). However, domestic production was reorganized at Great

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Salt Spring, where women are assumed to have conducted much of the specialized
salt production for exchange. Thomas suggests that women there ‘‘streamlined’’
domestic production to meet the increased demands on their labor. Men also may
have become more involved in domestic production.
The need to dismantle the divide between the domestic and political economies
becomes more obvious with the study of households engaged with the modern
world system. Several studies have considered the manner in which Creek
households in Alabama and Georgia were transformed through articulation with
market economies in the colonial era. Waselkov (1994, p. 195) notes that the sudden
increase in the demand for deerskins in 1685 led to changes in the organization of
household production and the form of domestic architecture, specifically the
abandonment of the traditional, semisubterranean winter house (see also Hally
2002, p. 108). Similarly, Scott (2007) considers whether the shift to log homes
among Creek Indians at the turn of the 19th century reflects a weakening of the
traditional authority of matrilineages in household production and consumption, as
might be expected given the greater dispersion of settlements brought on by the
adoption of livestock herding. He ultimately concludes that the transition required
little change in the actual form or materials of domestic architecture; it may simply
represent the manipulation of the outward appearance of structures to conform to
European models, while maintaining traditional use of space and material culture
within the house.
Groover (1998, 2005) analyzes the economic choices made by the residents of
the Gibbs farmstead in eastern Tennessee between c. 1792 and 1913. Using a world-
system perspective, he illustrates how a strategy of rural patrimony emphasizing
production over consumption created material continuity in housing and other
aspects of material culture. Groover credits this strategy with sustaining four
consecutive households in an internal periphery otherwise characterized by high
rates of landlessness.
Cabak et al. (1999) apply modernization theory to the consumption practices of
rural farmsteads of the Aiken Plateau of South Carolina between around 1875 and
1950. Acknowledging criticisms of this theory, they nevertheless argue that
modernization provides a useful framework for understanding changes that took
place with the emergence of industrialism and consumerism in the late 19th century.
Combining archival and archaeological data for a sample of farmsteads stratified by
tenure status, Cabak et al. (1999, p. 38) demonstrate that the process of
modernization was uneven; historical information demonstrates that ‘‘…not
everyone could afford to mechanize their farms or modernize their homes, but
the archaeological record clearly illustrates that most people, regardless of tenure
class, participated in the mass consumption of inexpensive items, such as soda pop
and processed foods, that were being produced by the nation’s expanding factories.’’
Studies such as these are notable not only for transcending the divide between
domestic and political economies but also for providing a local context and human
dimension to generalized models of broad-scale economic processes. However, they
also have a tendency to conceive of households as simply reactive to larger
processes and external stimuli. For example, Cabak and colleagues (1999) note that
microlevel changes in household material culture occurred well before the

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macrolevel structural changes of modernization spread to the rural study area,


without considering possible connections between these processes.
Few archaeologists in the Southeast have examined the manner in which changes
in household production and consumption may be constitutive of—not simply
reflective of—transformations at larger scales. Sassaman’s (1993) work on the
adoption of ceramic vessels provides an exception. He suggests that seasonal
dispersion of Late Archaic (c. 3000–1000 B.C.) households in the upper Coastal
Plain provided opportunities for experimentation with new technologies such as
ceramics without the social pressures of conformance that came with life in more
aggregated settlements. Reciprocal trade among these dispersed households led to
the gradual westward spread of ceramic technology. The increased efficiency of
food processing afforded by this technology further increased the economic self-
sufficiency of households, contributing to the decline of interregional exchange
networks.
In a similar manner, Barker (1999) relates household economic production to the
often-noted instability of Mississippian chiefdoms. In his critique of the Chayano-
vian model suggesting that households set production targets based on a balance
between the marginal value of each additional unit and the increasing drudgery of
production, Barker (1999, p. 14) points out that redistributive buffering suppresses
household production for surplus, since ‘‘the drudgery of surplus soon exceeds the
perceived risk of underproduction…in an economy that bankrolls households during
the occasional bad year.’’ As a result, less surplus is available to elites, resulting in
less stability in the prestige-goods economy and more cycling in leadership
positions. Barker’s case study of the Coles Creek societies of the Lower Mississippi
Valley is perhaps less convincing, but the model is notable for its recognition of the
manner in which domestic economies may be constitutive of larger political
economies and processes.
Studies of domestic production and consumption among the native societies of
the Southeast are heavily biased toward households of the Mississippian period (but
see Johnson 1987; Sassaman 1993, 2006; Smith 1992). This no doubt reflects better
preservation of later prehistoric domestic architecture, as well as a more general
topical bias within the field. It also serves to highlight ambiguity regarding
definitions of households and the timing of the emergence of these social formations
within the prehistory of the Southeast. Of course, under the broad definition
described in this article’s introduction, households have been present from the time
of earliest human settlement in the region; the band-level societies of the
Paleoindian period could be considered households since they presumably shared
production and consumption. But the question of how long households have been
present in the region remains open if we speak in a more restricted sense of
archaeological households as recently described by Nash (2009, pp. 224–225)—i.e.,
as a subset of the community consisting of a ‘‘coresidential group that used the
occupation surface, features, and artifacts associated with a dwelling,’’ and which
cooperated in production and consumption. The presence of households in this more
restricted sense seems secure for the late Mississippian period, based on
ethnographic analogy, limited ethnohistoric data, and relatively secure archaeolog-
ical evidence (see Hally 2008, pp. 272–309). At what point(s) in the 12 millennia

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preceding the late Mississippian period were production and consumption


reorganized from community to smaller, coresident social formations?
The identification of isolated, small structures with cooking and storage facilities
at Late Archaic sites such as Mill Branch in Georgia suggests the presence of
archaeological households as the basic economic unit in some areas of the Southeast
well before the Mississippian period (Sassaman and Ledbetter 1996, p. 94). Mill
Branch was only seasonally occupied, however, leaving open the possibility of
larger coresident groups and more communal production at other times of the year.
Sassaman (2006, p. 112) presents evidence of a transition from communal to more
permanent household-level production and consumption of mast resources in the
context of increasing sedentism at Stallings Island and related Late Archaic sites in
the middle Savannah River Valley. The argument is based on the appearance of
clusters of storage features tightly packed around narrow plazas to form circular
‘‘compounds’’ (Sassaman 2006, pp. 94–104). Sassaman interprets these feature
clusters as individual households, a reasonable assumption given that each contains
its own hearth and storage pits. The small size and close spacing of these houses,
however, could be interpreted as evidence that they continued to function
cooperatively in basic productive tasks (e.g., Pauketat [2000, p. 32] on pre-
Mississippian house clusters at Cahokia).
The identification of domestic architecture from the Early (1000–500 B.C.) and
Middle (500 B.C. to A.D. 500) Woodland periods has proved difficult in many parts
of the Southeast (Clay 2002; Cowan 2006; Smith 1992, 2006; but see Faulkner
2002). Pacheco and Dancey (2006, p. 6) assume that households from these periods
in the Ohio Valley consisted of single, or possibly extended, family units. For the
American Bottom, Peregrine (1992) interprets the large, curvilinear houses arranged
around central plazas as the residences of individual, extended families coordinated
as joint economic units. Cobb and Nassaney (2002, p. 538), based on a perceived
lack of substantial houses or planned communities during the Early and Middle
Woodland periods, argue that the ‘‘institutionalization’’ of domestic space
(presumably including household-based production and consumption) did not occur
until the subsequent Mississippian period (Cobb and Nassaney 2002, p. 539).
Evidence for domestic architecture is more secure for the Late Woodland period,
particularly in the American Bottom where Kelly’s (1990b; Kelly et al. 1987) FAI-
270 excavations were extensive enough to result in the identification of numerous
houses and whole community patterns. Small ‘‘keyhole’’ structures became
common in the American Bottom by the Patrick phase (A.D. 600–700) (Kelly
1990b), and similar domestic architecture is occasionally found on sites farther
south (Jenkins and Krause 1986; Pluckhahn 2003). These keyhole structures are
arranged in clusters at sites in the American Bottom (Kelly 1990b; Kelly et al.
1987). Peregrine (1992) interprets this as evidence for the emergence of lineage
compounds—several extended families from the same lineage functioning as a joint
economic unit and thus possibly functioning as a single, large household.
By the Early Mississippian period in the American Bottom, larger rectangular
houses were arranged linearly in villages (Kelly 1990a, b; Kelly et al. 1989), a
pattern taken to represent the emergence of individual nuclear or extended families
as the basic economic unit (Peregrine 1992). Following Flannery (1972, 2002),

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Peregrine relates these changes to a general trend toward the attenuation of the
household as the basic economic unit in the evolution of complex societies, arguing
that this ‘‘promotes competition in production and the emergence of intensification
and social stratification’’ (Peregrine 1992, pp. 141–142). Rogers (1995b, pp. 92–98)
makes a similar case for a reduction in the size of Mississippian households (from
multiple family to single family) in the Arkansas Basin, correlating this with the
general tendency toward the centralization of authority in more complex societies.
Similarly, but without reference to evolutionary theory, Pauketat (1997b, 2000, pp.
33–35) implicates the emergence of households as an economic unit disarticulated
from larger kin groups (but now attached to political patrons) as a transformative
juncture in the historical development of Cahokia.
Together, these studies suggest a fundamental change in the organization of
domestic production during the Mississippian period, perhaps including the
development of nuclear family households as a basic economic unit (this may
correlate with an emphasis on the social identity of households, as indicated by
ritual rebuilding and subfloor inhumation, discussed in more detail below).
Nevertheless, it seems clear that coresidential households emerged as units of
production in one form or another earlier in the Southeast (Sassaman 1993, 2006;
Sassaman and Ledbetter 1996), perhaps at several junctures. Pauketat (1997b, p.
636) observes that ‘‘…measures of the emergence of households as economic units
can be partly obscured by using the concept of household too liberally,’’ a point well
taken. However, the same perhaps could be said of defining the concept of
household too narrowly—in terms of coresident nuclear families operating more or
less independently economically on a year-round basis. Additional research may
benefit from viewing the emergence of the household economic unit as a continuum
along the lines of sedentism (Fletcher 2007; Kelly 1992) and horticulture (Harris
1989). This might entail recognition of households as units of production and
consumption only at certain times of the year or in particular social contexts (Nash
2009, p. 218; Pyburn 2008, p. 117; Sassaman 1993). It also requires us to
acknowledge that households emerged and reemerged at several times and places in
the prehistory of the Southeast rather than in a neat evolutionary or historical
progression. Such a view does not, however, deny that the emergence of a particular
form of household—as was apparently the case in the Mississippian period—may
represent a profound transformation in the organization of production (see Fletcher
2007, p. 166; Hartman 2004).

Household status

As noted above, status differentiation is a principal topic among archaeologists


studying households, including those working in the southeastern United States.
Status figured prominently in the early archaeological treatments of both historic
(King 1990; Shephard 1984; Singleton 1980) and prehistoric (Nass 1987; Polhemus
1990; Sullivan 1986, 1987, 1989, 1995) households in the region.
Commonly cited archaeological indicators of status differentiation in households
include house size, architectural design, and artifact assemblages. Higher-status

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households are generally expected to be larger than lower-status ones because they
have more members, control more resources, and provide more special functions
(Hirth 1993b, p. 123). As a result, elite houses are expected to be larger than
nonelite households, to exhibit more extravagant construction, and perhaps to
contain special-purpose facilities. In addition, the material goods associated with
higher-status households are expected to exhibit greater quantity, quality, and
diversity than those associated with commoner houses (Hirth 1993b, pp. 124–125).
These expectations have not always matched archaeological reality. Hirth
(1993b, p. 122) notes that archaeologists are generally more successful in
reconstructing relations of power than they are in identifying categories or levels
of rank. One reason is that social status is frequently expressed along a continuum;
the differences may be great from one extreme to the other but relatively minor
between points closer along the continuum. Thus it is not surprising that
southeastern archaeologists looking for variation in status at the extremes of highly
stratified societies have found the task relatively straightforward; in other cases the
task has proved more challenging.
Looking first to the extremes, clear differences in status have been noted in the
housing and associated material remains associated with planters, overseers, and
slaves on antebellum plantation sites in the Southeast (Lewis 1985; Michie 1987;
Moore 1985; Otto 1975, 1980, 1984). Such differences also have been observed
among elite, middle-class, and slave households in urban contexts (Reitz 1987;
Zierden 1999; Zierden and Calhoun 1990). Franklin (1997, p. 2) has criticized these
sorts of studies for their ‘‘obsessions with elucidating status-related markers that
essentially gave us information that we already had, i.e. enslaved peoples had less
material things than slave owning whites.’’
More recent research on status differentiation among historic households in the
Southeast recognizes that the expression of status and wealth variation may be
subtle, or at least that the evidence from material culture may be mixed. Cabak and
Groover’s (2006) work at Bush Hill Plantation near Aiken, South Carolina, provides
a case in point. Block excavations at the plantation home, inhabited by four
generations of a wealthy family between c. 1807 and 1920, reveal a preference for
inexpensive household items rather than the luxury goods assumed to be typical of
genteel southern society. On the other hand, the density of artifacts suggests a
pattern of aggressive consumerism by the Bush family.
In a similar vein, Gibb’s (1994) comparison of households associated with two
17th-century plantations in southern Maryland suggests that their dwellings were
relatively small and minimally differentiated in terms of task specialization.
Archival data indicate that wealth was invested primarily in new lands rather than in
the house or plantation. However, several land-rich neighbors apparently had larger
households with task-specific spaces, consistent with the general expectations cited
above.
Veech (1998) examines the ways in which distinctions in status are manifested in
the material record of mid-18th-century Virginia, a context notable for the sudden
availability of luxury goods at mercantile stores. No longer able to maintain a
distinction between themselves and social aspirants through material possessions
alone, the gentry responded by emphasizing esoteric rules of style and refinement.

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Veech compares household assemblages associated with gentry, wealthy social


aspirants, and wealthy nonaspirants. He finds that wealth alone was insufficient
grounds for claims to status; although wealthy social aspirants possessed many of
the same luxury goods as gentry, they were unfamiliar with the genteel rules of
behavior guiding the display and use of those goods.
These studies illustrate the manner in which expressions of status are complicated
by larger political and economic structures and particular historical circumstances.
In the archaeology of the historic-era Southeast, another example is provided by
work on households of the late 19th century, when the development of mass
production resulted in the ready availability of items of popular culture. Cabak et al.
(1999, p. 38) compared architecture and artifacts associated with a sample of
farmsteads from that era in the Aiken Plateau of South Carolina stratified by tenure
class, finding that consumption of items of popular culture was not affected by
socioeconomic standing. However, other aspects of the built environment, such as
housing styles and the number of outbuildings, were correlated with wealth and
tenure status.
The complexities observed in the expression of status differentiation among
historic households suggest that the task of identifying status-related variation
should be even more difficult for the prehistoric societies of the Southeast, given
that such differences were arguably less institutionalized in Mississippian
chiefdoms than they were in the plantation-era South or the increasingly
industrialized southern cities of the Gilded Age. Consistent with this, a number
of recent studies have suggested that status differences among prehistoric
households were either minimal or minimally expressed.
Wilson (2005, 2008), for example, finds that early Mississippian households at
Moundville varied little in the size, shape, or style of their domestic structures.
Differences in domestic pottery assemblages were slight. He concludes that
variations in status and wealth among households were ‘‘downplayed in everyday
life’’ (Wilson 2008, p. 129). Wilson (2008, p. 130) takes heed of the apparent
contradiction between the relative equality of households and the elitism expressed
in mound ceremonialism and mortuary ritual. He argues that these limited
expressions of status differentiation were a means by which kin groups could
increase the prestige of their leaders relative to other clan heads. Wilson suggests an
increase in the status differentiation of households in later Moundville phases, after
around A.D. 1200. Michals (1998) found a similar pattern in a comparison of
artifact assemblages from three sites in the Black Warrior River Valley (a rural
farmstead, a single mound site, and Moundville itself); status differences were
muted in Moundville I (A.D. 1050–1250) and became more pronounced in
Moundville II (A.D. 1250–1400).
Contrary to the situation at Moundville, Pauketat (1994) identifies a bimodal
distribution of house sizes in early Mississippian phases at Cahokia. Larger
structures are associated with households at the northern end of the main plaza.
These households also generally include special-purpose facilities such as sweat
lodges. Trubitt (1996, 2000), however, argues that this trend is not borne out by her
larger comparison of 142 household units from 21 sites in the American Bottom.
She finds that the predicted relationship between larger households and higher status

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is weak in the early history of Cahokia, before A.D. 1200, and takes exception with
interpretations positing strong social differentiation and political hierarchy at the
time Cahokia was founded.
With similar interests as Trubitt and Wilson, Gallivan (1999) compares 147
house patterns and 616 features from 33 settlements in the James River area of
Virginia. He finds a critical change in the organization of households and villages
around A.D. 1200–1500. First, storage pits were more commonly placed inside
houses as time progressed. Second, house size increased and became more variable.
Household control of surplus, he argues, led to new funds of power and contributed
to the institutionalization of social inequality.
Many of these studies posit an increase in the differentiation of households in the
transition from early to late Mississippian, around A.D. 1200. Does this represent a
change in the organizational structure of Mississippian societies across a broad area
of the Southeast, such that households became more clearly ranked by status? Or,
instead, were the differences among households simply more overtly marked?
Alternatively, was status expressed differently by earlier Mississippian households,
perhaps in ways not amenable to the broad-scale comparisons characteristic of many
of these studies?
Hally’s (2008) work at the late Mississippian King site in northwestern Georgia
illustrates the ways household status may be manifested in subtle ways discernible
only through finer-grained analyses. Hally compares the histories of six households
at King. One has a single primary domestic structure and is interpreted as the
household of a single conjugal family. The other five have two or more primary
domestic structures and seemingly comprised (at least in their later histories)
multiple conjugal families. Based on the spatial arrangement and size of domestic
structures, the number of rebuilding episodes, and other evidence such as grave
goods, Hally (2008, p. 528) interprets three or four of them as the households of the
original founders of the community, and thus ‘‘among the most prestigious and
highest ranking in the community.’’ One household in particular was clearly
differentiated; Hally suggests it might have been the household of the town chief or
his matriline (Hally 2008, p. 532).
Hally’s work highlights the importance of historical factors in the creation
of household status (Hally 2008, pp. 525–526; see also Carter 1984; Welch 2006,
pp. 227–239). Relatedly, it suggests that detailed, microhistorical analyses may
divulge differences in status obscured by broad-brushed comparisons. The King site
research also points to the benefits of decoupling wealth and status (still recognizing
that they are often mutually reinforcing); careful attention to the context of grave
goods at King, for example, reveals that shell beads were probable indicators of
wealth while shell gorgets were not (Hally 2008, p. 531).
Hally’s research also serves as a reminder that studies of Mississippian
households have tended to focus on points closer together along the continuum of
status differentiation rather than the extremes. With the exception of the King site,
the households of Mississippian chiefs have received surprisingly little attention.
Payne’s (2002) review of a sample of structures on top of Mississippian mounds
reveals that they are twice as large on average as structures from nonmound contexts
(she acknowledges, however, that many may have been temples rather than houses).

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Likewise, Gougeon (2006) notes the significantly larger size of a domestic structure
on top of a mound at the Little Egypt site in northern Georgia relative to two
structures in the adjacent village. However, Gougeon finds that despite the larger
size of its domestic structure, the elite household was structured much the same in
terms of the types of household activities that were represented and their spatial
organization.
Greater attention to the histories of Mississippian households and to the opposing
poles of status differentiation would likely mitigate the interpretation that these
households were fundamentally similar and self-sufficient. Judging from the work
of their colleagues studying historic-era households, archaeologists of the Missis-
sippian era would do well to consider the possibility that social aspirants directed
their energies to other strategies for increasing the social positioning of themselves
and their households (i.e., beyond investing in larger houses or luxury goods) (see
also Wilk 1983).
Finally, studies of status differentiation in the prehistoric Southeast have focused
almost exclusively on the households of the Mississippian period. One exception is
my own (Pluckhahn 2002, 2003) examination of changes in status differentiation
over the course of the Middle to Late Woodland transition at the Kolomoki site in
Georgia. Based on the appearance of new vessel forms and decorations, I argue that
status distinctions were more overtly expressed in the material culture of households
in the Late Woodland period, at the same time that mound building and
ceremonialism began to wane. The examination of temporal changes in household
status across this and other critical junctures, such as the Late Woodland to
Mississippian transition, would seem a fruitful topic for additional research.

Household agency, power, and resistance

The corpus of household archaeology completed in the Southeast over the last
decade displays increasing concern with issues of agency, power, and practice.
Paralleling broader developments in archaeology, these studies evince greatly
divergent conceptions of these themes. Perhaps the most vexing question for
southeastern archaeologists has been the degree of agency that should be granted to
households in the face of the constraints imposed by hegemonic economic and
political forces.
Two opposing answers to this question are clearly expressed in the debate
regarding the relative autonomy of Mississippian farmsteads in the American
Bottom. Based on an extensive study of sites excavated during the FAI-270 project,
Mehrer (1995; Mehrer and Collins 1995) challenges the traditional assumptions that
these rural commoner households were tightly controlled by elites at Cahokia.
Noting that the emergence of isolated households during the Stirling phase had been
accompanied by the development of internal storage facilities, Mehrer (1995,
p. 145) argues that these farmsteads exercised a substantial degree of privacy and
autonomy over their own subsistence. He recognizes a hierarchy of rural farmsteads
headed by ‘‘nodal’’ households, interpreted as the homes of locally prominent
families who served as part-time ceremonial specialists (Mehrer 1995, p. 166). He

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also suggests that rural households developed this hierarchy ‘‘among themselves
based on the civic and mortuary ceremonialism that helped to integrate them as a
community’’ (Mehrer 1995, p. 145). For Mehrer, the presence of these nodal
households serves as evidence that social power was only weakly centralized in
rural communities. While granting that ‘‘regional elites must have had considerable
effect on the religious, economic, and social climate of the dispersed communities,’’
Mehrer (1995, p. 145) argues that much of the day-to-day life at isolated farmsteads
was not closely regulated.
Examining much the same data as Mehrer, Emerson (1997a, b) arrives at a much
different interpretation regarding the autonomy of farmsteads in the hinterlands of
Cahokia. Like Mehrer, he also sees nodal settlements integrating the dispersed rural
populations (Emerson 1997a, pp. 156–176). Also like Mehrer, he believes these
served as both residences and civic-ceremonial centers. But where Mehrer sees
hierarchy developing organically from rural farmsteads themselves, Emerson sees
the guiding hand of elites at Cahokia. Specifically, he argues that ‘‘rural elite must
have been directly appointed by the Cahokian paramount’’ (Emerson 1997a, p. 186).
Thus, contrary to Mehrer, he believes that Cahokian elite ‘‘exerted considerable
power over the daily existence of the common people’’ (Emerson 1997a, p. 187).
Pauketat and Emerson (Emerson 1997a, p. 187; Pauketat 1997b, p. 636, 2000;
Pauket and Emerson 1997) suggest that what Mehrer and others have interpreted as
household autonomy may instead be the historical consequence of political
subordination. Specifically, they argue that the appearance of isolated farmsteads
early in the history of Cahokia marks their attachment as clientele to political
patrons. Elites deliberately manipulated commoners’ attitudes regarding their own
autonomy through the ‘‘imposition of hegemony in the ‘guise of communalism’ ’’
(Emerson 1997a, p. 187; see also Pauketat and Emerson 1997).
The idea that households could be manipulated into subservient relationships
through appeals to their common good has intuitive appeal for explaining the origins
of hierarchical social ranking from less stratified social formations. Moreover, as
Emerson (1997a, pp. 187–188) argues, the portrayal of rural farmsteads as more or
less autonomous in their day-to-day affairs seems ‘‘incongruous within the context
of the small areal extent of the American Bottom and the power of the hierarchically
organized Cahokian polity.’’ Nevertheless, the notion that there was a ‘‘total
expropriation of power, both civic and religious, from commoners’’ (Emerson
1997a, p. 258) seems overwrought. It is consistent with many early treatments of
agency that tended to treat elites as active and commoners as passive (Dornan 2002;
Robin 2003, p. 320). More practically, it ignores the fact that some degree of
autonomy over the scheduling of domestic tasks is essential for the persistence of
households through time (Hagstrum 2001, p. 48).
More recently, Emerson and Pauketat (2002, p. 109) appear to moderate their
position to allow for resistance among some households to the domination of the
Cahokian elite. This strategy of opposition to the cultural creation of Cahokia,
described as the ‘‘Richland resistance’’ (after the Richland tract in Cahokia’s
periphery), is manifested in the retention of traditional practices, including the
continued use of semisubterranean post structures at the same time the new wall
trench style was replacing that form at Cahokia. In terms perhaps suggestive of the

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forging of a middle ground with Mehrer, Pauketat and Alt (2003, pp. 166–167)
observe that households in the Richland tract ‘‘appear to have retained a good deal
of autonomy in their everyday routines,’’ even if their proximity to Cahokia proper
‘‘was insufficiently great to impart any real political autonomy.’’
This dialectical view of power—a recognition of both the power to dominate and
the power to resist this domination—has found greater elaboration in the historical
archaeology of the Southeast. A great deal of this work, while not explicitly framed
as household archaeology, draws comparisons between households to illuminate
differential expressions of power and acts of resistance to relationships of
oppression. Thomas (1998), for example, contrasts the material remains of slave
dwellings from different areas of the Hermitage Plantation to explain how power
relationships were variably expressed. He notes that slave dwellings nearest the
mansion were more formal and that the slaves living in that area had access to more
expensive and presumably more valued ceramics. Yet the distribution of domes-
ticated meat did not fit the pattern, suggesting that slave owners did not exert as
much control over some commodities. The prevalence of artifacts such as beads,
harmonica parts, combs, and ammunition in some dwellings suggests that slaves at
the Hermitage further resisted domination through their participation in a cash
economy outside the plantation.
The cellars below African-American slave dwellings in the Southeast (partic-
ularly in Virginia and Kentucky) have received considerable attention as testimony
to the negotiation of power among slaves and between slaves and slave owners
(Galle 2004; Kelso 1984; Kimmel 1993; McKee 1992; Samford 1994, 2007;
Singleton 1996; Young 1997). These pits appear to have been used for a variety of
purposes, in some cases functioning as root cellars for preservation of fruit and
vegetables, in other cases serving as personal storage spaces (especially in non-kin-
based households), as ‘‘hidey holes’’ for stolen or pilfered goods, or as shrines.
Whatever their purpose, the presence of these cellars suggests that slaves and slave
households maintained some degree of property, space, and subsistence (Young
1997, p. 95).
Relations of power also have received attention by archaeologists studying
historic-era Native American households in the Southeast. Wesson (1997, 2001,
2002, 2008) considers changes in the autonomy of households among the Upper
Creek in Alabama in the period just before to several centuries after contact with
Europeans. Melding Bourdieu’s (1977) notions of habitus and symbolic capital with
Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony, Wesson argues that precontact households
were dominated by an elite whose hegemony was supported by their control of
prestige goods and sacred landscapes. Contrary to the commonly held assumption
that the power of Mississippian chiefs declined rapidly with depopulation brought
on by European diseases in the 1500s, Wesson argues that chiefly power continued
largely unabated through the period of initial contact. The key transformation
occurred instead during the subsequent ‘‘trade period’’ (beginning around 1600) as
native prestige goods were selectively replaced by those of European manufacture.
The increased availability of these goods provided a mechanism for households
seeking to challenge the hegemony of elites. Wesson sees evidence for this in the

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increased frequency of luxury items in burials and in the greater number and size of
domestic storage facilities.
Resistance in Wesson’s analysis consists mainly of secondary elites attempting to
emulate the leaders of their own communities. More often, however, resistance by
native peoples of the historic era is conceived in terms of the maintenance of
traditions in the face of colonial hegemonies. Thus Scarry (2001) infers resistance to
Spanish colonialism from the material culture of historic Apalachee households.
Specifically, he argues that the retention of traditional Apalachee round, unparti-
tioned houses in contradistinction to Spanish architectural styles reflects a
repudiation of Spanish power and ideals, especially the subordination of women.
Similarly, Rodning (2009) suggests that consistency in the spatial arrangements and
alignments of 17th- and early 18th-century Cherokee households at the Coweeta
Creek site in southwestern North Carolina fostered a sense of place that served as a
form of cultural persistence and resistance to the destabilizing influences of
European colonization. On the other hand, Marcoux (2008, pp. 357–358) sees the
lack of formality and rebuilding of houses at the Townsend site, a late 17th- and
early 18th-century Cherokee community, as evidence of ‘‘…short-term strategies
that emphasized flexibility and improvisation.’’
Studies such as these employing a more dialectical view of power can be credited
with granting greater agency to the households of segments of the population often
neglected in historical accounts or contemporary interpretations, or both. However,
dichotomies such as elite and disenfranchised, dominant and dominated, are too
simplistic to capture the range of variation in most historical circumstances (Bell
2002, pp. 258–259; Thomas 2002, p. 47; Young 1999, p. 66). Moreover, power and
resistance are often invoked in all-encompassing terms. Several recent studies of
historic-era households point to more subtle variation in relationships of domination
and resistance. Based on her comparison of colonial-era domestic architecture and
material culture in the Virginia Piedmont, Bell (2002, p. 289) suggests that while
resistance may have been a shrewd strategy for members of truly subordinate
groups, those of ‘‘middling’’ status stood a better chance of advancing their position
by emulating local leaders. Similarly, Galle’s (2004) analysis of the material
remains of several of the same enslaved households at the Hermitage previously
studied by Thomas (1998) reveals that the expression of agency may be more
complicated and idiosyncratic than previously assumed. Based on the much higher
abundance of sewing equipment, Galle identifies one of the dwellings at the
Hermitage as the household of a seamstress, probably that of Gracy Bradley.
Comparison of this to other slave households at the Hermitage indicates that
Bradley and her husband (Albert Jackson, Andrew Jackson’s wagoner) had much
greater access to nonprovisioned items of personal adornment and recreation,
probably as a result of their privileged positions in social and economic networks.
These treatments exemplify the way that ‘‘power is relational and continually in
process, is enabling, as well as constraining, and is constitutive of identity and
understanding’’ (Thomas 2002, p. 47). In doing so they offer a corrective to studies
emphasizing only the agency of elites. However, they also run the risk of
understating the constraints imposed on commoner households by more powerful
individuals and institutions. As Scott (2004, p. 8) suggests, it is important to think

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carefully about ‘‘portraying African American men and women as active shapers of
their lives without denying the constraints of slavery and societal racism in which
they lived.’’ The constraints placed on household agency are not restricted to the
plantation-era South, however. Wilk’s (1983, pp. 112–113) ethnographic studies
demonstrate the constraints placed on the agency of households by the threat of
community sanctions, a lesson applicable to much of the prehistoric and early
historic Southeast.
Southeastern archaeologists have devoted considerably less attention to rela-
tionships of power within households. One exception is Stewart-Abernathy (2004),
who describes how detached kitchens provided segregation in 19th-century southern
households that reinforced the subservience of slave women (and women’s work in
general) through the habitus of daily life. Barile (2004b) studies the way in which
South Carolina ‘‘household complexes’’ were reorganized to reinforce hegemonic
relationships in light of slave uprisings. In this case, however, the household
complex refers to the plantation as a whole. There is logic to the conceptualization
of plantation-as-household; historian Fox-Genovese (1988, pp. 95, 100) also makes
this case, pointing out that slaves were considered property, that much of the
production and consumption on the plantation was shared, and that slave owners
often stated their vision of the plantation as a single household in statements like
‘‘my family white and black.’’ Whether slaves themselves would have considered
themselves part of a singular ‘‘plantation household’’ is less clear. Certainly,
archaeologists who adopt the perspective of the plantation household or household
complex should be mindful of understating the efforts of slaves to maintain some
degree of autonomy over their own domestic activities.
As Sullivan (2001, p. 105) notes, treatments of power relationships within
households and domestic kin units of the prehistoric Southeast have been ‘‘damped’’
by the emphasis on public, political arenas. My colleagues and I consider the manner
in which an episode of small-scale, household-level feasting at the Woodland period
site of Kolomoki may have benefitted some members of the domestic group over
others (Pluckhahn et al. 2006). The issue could be addressed only in relatively
abstract terms, reflecting the difficulty of identifying the material expressions of
power among members of a single, coresident household. Nevertheless, many of the
households of the late prehistoric Southeast appear to have consisted of multiple-
family groups residing in separate structures (Hally 2008, pp. 272–273), providing a
potentially productive—but as yet largely unexplored—forum for the investigation
of intrahousehold relations of power.

Households and gender

Gender has constituted a major area of research in household archaeology in the


Southeast since work on households began in earnest in the 1980s. Early treatments
focused mainly on the manner in which gender-based tasks could be identified
through the spatial patterning of particular classes of artifacts within households
(e.g., Polhemus 1998; Sullivan 1986, 1987, 1995). Patterns identified in a sample of
households were then often generalized to particular phases and periods. Work in

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this vein continues in the Southeast, albeit with a greater recognition that gender-
based activities are not usually so firmly fixed (e.g., Gougeon 2002).
Recent research pays greater attention to the manner in which gender roles were
constructed and expressed in particular contexts (Allison 1999, p. 10; Beaudry
2004; Fesler 2004a, 2004b, p. 180; Pyburn 2004, pp. 4–5, 2008; Wurst 2003). As a
result, the gendered, internal relations of households are increasingly considered a
dimension of larger socioeconomic and political processes (Brumfiel and Robin
2008, p. 4; Spencer-Wood 2004). This makes it difficult to discuss gender as a
separate strain in household archaeology in the Southeast but points to the extent to
which gender has been incorporated into the contemporary practice of household
archaeology in the region.
Historical archaeologists in the Southeast have taken the lead in these new
approaches to gender. This may in part reflect an additional measure of confidence
in the interpretation of gender roles supplied by archival data. Conversely, as
Pyburn (2008, p. 122) has recently argued, it may result from our increased
cognizance of the inadequacy of facile gender stereotypes when they are applied to
the more recent past. Much of the recent work focuses on gender-based relations
within and between households in the antebellum South, perhaps in response to
Conkey’s (1991, p. 29) earlier critique of an ‘‘eerie silence’’ on the topic of gender
from practitioners of African-American archaeology. I mentioned above Stewart-
Abernathy’s (2004) work on the detached kitchens of southern slave households and
the role these facilities may have played in reinforcing the subservience of slave
women. Works such as this serve as reminders that conflicts and inequalities are
inherent components of gendered social relations within households (Wurst 2003,
p. 234).
Recent works also pay heed to the ways gender roles may be complementary and
cooperative. Several recent studies examine the gender-specific task groups that
bonded slave households into mutually supportive social networks. Young (2003)
compares the assemblages associated with three slave households at Locust Grove
Plantation in Kentucky, finding that women of separate households participated in
reciprocal gift giving. Her analysis of faunal remains from slave households at
Saragossa Plantation in Mississippi suggests that men maintained support networks
through the practice of communal hunting. Battle (2004a) posits similar cooperation
in the form of the sharing of domestic chores by enslaved women of neighboring
households at the Hermitage Plantation, based on the distribution of artifacts and
features in spaces between households.
Young (2004) contrasts the roles and strategies employed by enslaved women in
the private spaces of their own homes and the public domain of the household of the
plantation owner. Based on historic documents from Oxmoor Plantation in
Kentucky, she argues that in the context of their work as domestic servants for
the plantation owner, women employed gendered kin terminology to protect the
interests of their families, often in opposition to the interests of other slave families.
This contrasts with the cooperative networks forged among women in the contexts
of their own households, as described above (Young 2003). Young’s research is
significant for the recognition that the expression of gender roles and relationships

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may vary in different contexts. It also highlights the ways in which such roles and
relationships can be mutual and conflictual at the same time (see also Wurst 2003).
The intersection of gender and ethnicity has been examined in several recent
studies of historic households in the Southeast, including Fesler’s (2004a, b, p. 182)
research at Utopia, an early 18th-century quartering site in Virginia. Fesler’s
principal question is whether the living arrangements were built on African models
or, at least in part, on a template imposed by the owner of the plantation. He
evaluates the material remains from three households to assess whether living
quarters were organized as kin-based households, single-sex barracks, or a house
compound arrangement similar to those found at the time in West and Central
Africa. The evidence is largely inconclusive, but the study is noteworthy for its
attention to the way in which domestic structures and household composition shape
and are in turn shaped by gender roles and ethnicity.
Samford (2004) examines the relationship between ethnicity and the roles played
by men and women in domestic production in slave households in Virginia. She
notes that among the Igbo of West Africa (one of the primary groups brought to
work on plantations during the 18th century), the household was a matricentric unit
consisting of a woman and her children, often arranged with one or more other
household units in a male-headed compound. Men and women had complementary
roles in supplying food for the household, with men controlling the production and
distribution of yams and women producing most of the other dietary staples.
Samford sees continuity in these roles in the slave households of early historic
Virginia.
The complementarity of men’s and women’s political roles receives consider-
ation in work by Rodning and VanDerwarker on historic Cherokee households at
the Coweeta Creek site (Rodning 2001a, b; Rodning and VanDerwarker 2002).
They find that the graves of the oldest women were preferentially located in and
beside houses in the village. In contrast, many more adult men than women were
buried in the public townhouse. This pattern is interpreted as a reflection of ‘‘…the
privileged access of women and men in this community to different kinds of power,
primarily through men’s involvement in the practice of diplomacy and war between
towns and women’s roles as leaders of matrilineal clans and households within
towns’’ (Rodning and VanDerwarker 2002, p. 7); ‘‘these complementary forms of
power in events and activities…took place primarily within the settings of public
and household architecture, respectively.’’
The complementarity of both racial and gender identities is evident in Greene’s
(2009) study of the Welch family plantation, a post-Removal household in
southwestern North Carolina headed by a white woman (Betty) and her Cherokee
husband (John). Artifact assemblages suggest an association of mass-produced,
purchased items with women’s activities and an association of handmade items with
men’s activities. Greene (2009, p. 171) argues that ‘‘the ‘inferior race’ of one was
used to elevate the gender of another,’’ a conscious subversion of traditional roles
that allowed the Welch family to keep their farm in spite of Removal.
Gender continues to be a topic of concern for those studying prehistoric
households in the Southeast, as noted above (Alt 1999; Thomas 1997, 2001). In
general, however, the number of studies addressing gendered relations within and

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between prehistoric southeastern households appears to have diminished in recent


years. This apparent reticence may reflect criticisms of the first generation of
household studies for their ‘‘implicit assumptions’’ regarding gender roles, including
the uncritical presumption of gender-based artifact associations and the imposition
of Western, binary-gender oppositions (Allison 1999, p. 10; Pate 2004; Pyburn
2004, 2008; Tringham 1991; Wurst 2003). Nevertheless, the work by historical
archaeologists in the region should provide inspiration for inquiries regarding
gender roles in prehistoric households. For example, following on the works by
Young (2003) and Battle (2004a), greater attention could be devoted to gender-
specific task groups and relationships that crosscut and bound together prehistoric
households. The research by Stewart-Abernathy (2004) suggests the way that the
spatial divisions of domestic work may reinforce hierarchies based on gender.
Addressing such issues will require archaeologists studying prehistoric households
to focus more attention on the spaces around and between prehistoric houses.
Although historic archaeologists have taken the lead on new approaches to
gender in households, there is room for improvement here as well. As Scott (2004,
p. 8) notes, much of the literature focuses on women, leaving room for consideration
of male gender roles. More broadly, no substantive work of household archaeology
has considered alternative genders and sexual identities (Meskell 2007; but see
Pauls 2005 and Prine 2000 on earthlodges in Plains villages). Brandon (2004,
p. 207) calls for more research on the intersection of race and gender, noting that
household-level archaeology in the ‘‘antebellum/postbellum continuum’’ affords a
good opportunity. Surprisingly little attention has been devoted to changes in gender
roles within households under capitalism, as domestic labor became devalued
(Rotman 2003, p. 10).
The literature on gender roles within southeastern households—both prehistoric
and historic—would benefit from greater comparative research. Scott (2004, p. 7)
points to a number of potential comparative studies of gender for African-American
households of the historic era. For example, how did gender roles in postbellum
African-American households compare with those of European-Americans? How
did African-American women’s reform organizations and men’s fraternal organi-
zations impact 19th-century African-American households and gender roles? As
another example, Fox-Genovese (1988, p. 52) reports that a high proportion of
antebellum free black women chose to avoid marriage; how do the households of
these women differ from those of free black men or unmarried white women of the
same era?
It is not hard to pose similar questions for gender relations within households of
other ethnic groups in the historic-era Southeast. Likewise, for prehistoric
households in the region, we might ask how domestic production varied between
more agriculturally based Mississippian households in the interior Southeast and
those in peripheral areas such as Florida and Oklahoma, where domestic plants
appear to have been less important. Or, from a diachronic perspective, how were the
relations of domestic production reorganized with broader changes in economy,
such as the increasing reliance on horticulture over the course of the Woodland
period in some parts of the Southeast? More broadly, prehistoric and historic
archaeologists alike would do well to consider the conditions under which gender

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divisions and inequalities within households become emphasized (Brumfiel and


Robin 2008, p. 4).

Household ritual and symbolism

Allison (1999, p. 11) has noted that while ritual is a frequent topic of concern in
archaeological research, this has not generally been the case with studies of
households. One reason may be the assumption that the everyday or routine and
ritual are necessarily separate phenomena. But as she suggests ‘‘…‘routine’
activities often have their own symbolic meaning and ritual activities can be part of
everyday routine.’’ Of course, the identification of household ritual is a difficult
task, even in areas of the world with more substantial architecture and better
preservation than the Southeast; ritual objects may be quite ordinary, and ritual
activity may be situated within quotidian tasks (Bradley 2003; Hutson and Stanton
2007; Robin 2003, p. 321). In addition, household ritual may actually take place
outside domestic structures, in courtyards or around important natural features such
as springs (Robin 2003, p. 322). Nevertheless, several studies of households in the
Southeast demonstrate the manner in which ‘‘familiar practices can be imbued with
ritual meaning’’ (Robin 2003, p. 321).
The cosmological symbolism of Mississippian houses has been thoroughly
considered by Hally (2002, p. 108, 2008, pp. 85–86; see also Gougeon 2006), who
notes that the square, semisubterranean winter houses found at King and other late
Mississippian sites in northwestern Georgia and portions of adjacent states appear to
have expressed a number of cosmological beliefs and symbols that are known to
have been characteristic of some native peoples of the Southeast. The square floor
plan corresponds with the shape of the earth, the four walls and four roof support
posts correspond to the cardinal directions and the sacred number four, and the
seven posts used along exterior walls (regardless of the size of the house) also evoke
a sacred number. Hally (2002, p. 108) also observes similarities between these
houses and platform mounds (square shape, earthen cover, presence of burials,
evidence of rebuilding), suggesting that—like mounds—these domestic structures
also may have represented the ‘‘earth navel’’ from which ancestors emerged and to
which the dead returned.
The symbolic associations described by Hally underscore the possibility—more
thoroughly recognized in the archaeology of other areas of the world (e.g., Robin
2003, p. 321)—that public rituals, often directed by elites, were derived from
domestic ritual practices of ordinary people (Robin 2003, p. 321). In this light, it is
interesting to note that many of the symbolic associations observed in Mississippian
houses continued into the historic era, albeit mainly in public architecture (Rodning
2002, 2004; Wesson 2008, pp. 40–57). Still, these public structures retained
symbolic value for households; Rodning (2002) suggests that periodic rebuilding of
the townhouse at Coweeta Creek had the ‘‘symbolic effect of renewing social
relationships between the people and households that considered themselves a
town.’’

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Ancestor worship constitutes an area of household ritual frequently discussed in


the literature on households in some areas of the world (e.g., McAnnany 1995;
Robin 2003, p. 322); it is a growing area of interest among those studying
prehistoric and historic native households in the Southeast. A number of studies
(e.g., Hally 2008; Hally and Kelly 1998; Krause 1996; Rodning 2007; Schambach
1996) have demonstrated the manner in which the graves of ancestors and the buried
remnants of structures may create ‘‘architectural threads weaving generations of
houses together’’ (Rodning 2007, p. 465). At Coweeta Creek, some houses were
rebuilt as many as five times (Rodning 2007). Each time, the structures were shifted
only slightly, and the placement of hearths, roof support posts, and entryways
remained unchanged.
The rebuilding of domestic structures also served as a symbolic expression of
household identity in the Mississippian period, as Hally (2008, pp. 308–309; see
also Hally and Kelly 1998) argues from evidence at the King site. There, nine
primary domestic structures were rebuilt 16 times over the course of the 40-year
occupation. In 12 cases, the rebuilt structures were placed essentially on top of their
predecessors. As Hally (2008, p. 309) notes, Mississippian household and descent
groups were corporate entities that owned or controlled property, coordinated
activities, and shared traditions, thus ‘‘households and their component conjugal
family units would have had a strong interest in tracing their existence into the past
and perpetuating their identity and existence through time.’’ In addition, Hally
suggests that the act of rebuilding houses may have been symbolic of purification
and world renewal—akin to other, more public ritual practices such as the
replacement of large posts in plazas or the addition of mantles to mounds.
Boudreaux (2007, p. 59) presents another variation on this theme with his analysis
of enigmatic enclosed circular structures at the Town Creek site, a Mississippian
village in North Carolina. He suggests that these enclosures were built to mark the
former locations of house sites, used as cemeteries after the houses had been
abandoned (but clearly not forgotten). Wilson (2008, p. 132) sees evidence for
similar commemorative practices at Moundville; as the population dispersed to the
hinterlands in the Moundville II and III periods (A.D. 1260–1520), ‘‘rurally
relocated kin groups converted their former residential areas at Moundville into
small corporate cemeteries.’’
Such commemorations of earlier houses, as well as the extensive, ritualistic
rebuilding of domestic structures in place, appear to have been uncommon for
houses dating prior to the Mississippian. Subfloor burials also are less frequent in
the houses of the Early Mississippian period (Hally and Kelly 1998; Sullivan 1987)
and rarer still in pre-Mississippian domestic structures. If such practices are
symbolic of household identity, it raises the question of when households emerged
as a unit of social reproduction and property transmission in the Southeast.
Alternatively, it is possible that the symbolic expression of household identity was
simply less important in Early Mississippian and pre-Mississippian times. Lacqu-
ement (2007b) considers an increase in household identity as one possible factor in
the switch from smaller pole to larger post structures in the Moundville vicinity
around A.D. 1400. He notes that the larger floor areas permitted more burials in the
interior of structures, as well as greater segregation of work and personal space.

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Studies such as these demonstrate that the construction of prehistoric houses in the
Southeast was, at least in some periods and places, a ritual act with symbolic
referents to cosmological principles and ancestor veneration.
This symbolic importance attached to houses by the indigenous peoples of the
late Mississippian and historic periods raises the possibility that some groups in the
Southeast may have been organized along the lines of the ‘‘sociétés à maison’’ or
‘‘house societies’’ described by Lévi-Strauss (1982, 1987). At the risk of
oversimplifying a complex concept, the ‘‘house’’ in these contexts is conceived of
as a ‘‘moral person,’’ which maintains an estate composed of both material and
immaterial wealth, and which is perpetuated through transmission along a real or
imaginary line legitimated in the language of kinship or affinity (Lévi-Strauss 1982,
p. 174; see also Beck 2007, pp. 4–13; Gillespie 2000, 2007, pp. 26–39). Rodning
(2007) makes a case that the Cherokee houses at Coweeta Creek took on this role,
based on the evidence of ritual rebuilding cited above. Perhaps more provocatively,
Brown (2007) reinterprets the mortuary data from Mound C at the Mississippian site
of Etowah in Georgia, arguing that a model of rival, interrelated elite houses fits the
archaeological record better than that of a single paramount lineage, as has usually
been assumed. Apart from these two examples, however, few archaeologists have
made a claim for this type of social organization among Mississippian or historic
Indian societies in the region. This caution may be warranted in that while some of
the conditions that have been described for the archaeological identification of
house societies (see Beck 2007, pp. 6–10; González-Ruibal 2006) are arguably
manifested in the Southeast, others are more ambiguous.
Although studies of the symbolic value of domestic architecture have prolifer-
ated, the specific ritual actions taking place in association with prehistoric
households in the region—what Bradley (2003, p. 12) refers to as the practices of
ritualization—have received less attention. Both Mehrer (1995) and Emerson
(1997a) implicate ritual in the function of nodal households in the rural hinterlands
of Cahokia. These nodal households sometimes include sweat lodges, presumably
used in ritual cleansing. As Emerson (1997a) notes, such ritual activities were
probably an aspect of everyday life. Maxham (2000, 2004) posits ritual as a
contributing factor in the production of an unusual artifact assemblage at Grady
Bobo, a Mississippian site near Moundville. Specifically, a large pit feature
produced a ceramic assemblage marked by unusually large quantities of serving
vessels and a faunal collection notable for its high proportions of bird bones. She
suggests that the site served as a public area where commoners—presumably from
nearby farmsteads, although the evidence for such was equivocal—‘‘gathered to
share food and create a sense of community’’ (Maxham 2004, p. 160).
Ritual is implicated in an episode of household-level feasting at the Woodland-
period Kolomoki site in Georgia (Pluckhahn et al. 2006). The possible feasting
assemblage included several species of plants unusual for the area but recognized by
later southeastern Indians for their symbolic associations and medicinal properties.
My colleagues and I note that multiple lines of evidence may be required to identify
feasting and other rituals at the household level; these activities may have taken
place irregularly, they may require little in the way of specialized equipment, and

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they are almost always subsumed within the remains of common domestic
activities.
Numerous studies have focused on the manner in which historic-era houses and
their spatial distribution symbolically reinforced elite statuses and ideologies (e.g.,
Barile 2004a; Leone 1984; Orser 1988), but less research has been devoted to the
cosmological symbolism of the domestic architecture of the historic-period
Southeast. There may be good reason for this omission; because many people of
the more recent past did not construct the houses in which they lived, the connection
of architecture and cosmological symbolism could be considered more tenuous.
On the other hand, greater attention has recently been devoted to ritual objects
associated with households of the historic era. For example, ritual practices are
implicated in the subfloor pits found beneath some slave houses in Virginia
(Samford 2007). Samford notes the correspondence between the content and
structure of these pits and shrines to Idemeli, one of the water spirits among the Igbo
of West Africa. Other artifacts resemble spiritual objects used by the Igbo for
ancestor veneration.
Excavations at a number of other slave households throughout the Southeast have
produced unusual objects interpreted as charms and amulets associated with
conjuring and other ritual practices (Baumann 2001; Singleton 1996, pp. 147–148;
Wilkie 1995, 1997, 2000, pp. 241–242; Young 1996, 1997). Sometimes these
interpretations are supported by documentary evidence; in other cases the
associations are more speculative (Singleton 1996, p. 147). Franklin (1997,
pp. 217–240) relates objects such as quartz and shells found in a slave household in
Virginia to ‘‘protective symbolism’’ by which people sought to defend themselves,
their families, and their belongings. More specifically, she connects these with
minkisi, a Kongo tradition consisting of ‘‘the material conduits through which the
living were assisted by the dead’’ (Franklin 1997, p. 224).
Although they have been less commonly considered, elite households of the
historic era also practiced ritual. McInnis (1999, p. 44) has noted the importance of
tea drinking as a ritual among women in 18th-century Charlestonian households, as
indicated by probate inventories documenting the sums spent on tea services. These
ceremonies were social rituals that bound together Charleston’s elite households and
excluded those without the means or connections to participate.
The literature regarding household ritual and symbolism in the Southeast could
perhaps be described as small but burgeoning. Historical archaeologists have
focused mainly on unusual objects found in domestic contexts, whereas prehisto-
rians have emphasized the symbolic and cosmological referents of domestic
architecture. Both groups would benefit from greater attention to the way that ritual
may be manifested in the seemingly mundane objects and activities of domestic life.
Equally important, albeit more challenging, is understanding these aspects of
material culture as meaningfully constituted ritual practices. Greater attention could
be directed to rituals associated with the abandonment of houses, structured
deposition of material remains, and deliberate fragmentation and reuse of objects
(e.g., Chapman 2000; LaMotta and Schiffer 1999, pp. 23–24; Souvatzi 2008, p. 30;
Tringham 1991).

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Households and the construction of ethnicity and identity

Ethnicity and identity constitute the last, and possibly most expansive, area of recent
research in the archaeology of households in the Southeast. Studies in this vein are
not exactly new; culture-historians of the early and middle 20th century, guided by a
view of culture that assumed conformance to rules or norms, frequently equated
phases and traditions with particular social groups (Jones 1997, p. 24). Domestic
architecture was often employed as a defining criterion for these taxonomic (and
cultural) units. Such simplistic equations of artifacts with ethnicity were rightly
dismissed by processualists and fell into disfavor in the 1960s and 1970s (Jones
1997, p. 5). In recent decades, however, ethnicity has re-emerged as a topic of
concern in archaeology, reconceptualized as an aspect of social organization
embedded within economic and political relations, particularly intergroup compe-
tition (Jones 1997, p. 28). Today, identity is frequently invoked as a creative
strategy of social boundary maintenance rather than a passive reflection of norms.
Historical archaeologists in the Southeast have been at the forefront of rethinking
archaeological approaches to identity formation, no doubt a reflection of the
importance of race and ethnicity in the development of American society (Thomas
2005, p. 157). Ethnicity, conceived mainly in terms of race, figured prominently in
several early studies of antebellum households in the Southeast (e.g., Otto 1975,
1984; Singleton 1980). As Franklin (1997, p. 3) notes, an initial preoccupation with
the differentiation of black and white households has given way to the manner in
which material culture is actively manipulated in the process of forming new
identities. Oppositional models of identity relations, such as acculturation, have
been largely supplanted by alternatives such as creolization, fusion, hybridity, and
parallel existence (Casella and Fowler 2005, p. 6) (see also Deagan 1983; Ferguson
1992).
A brief comparison illustrates changes in thinking. In one early and often-cited
study, Wheaton and Garrow (1985) note similarities between domestic structures
excavated at 18th-century plantations in South Carolina and the clay-walled
structures found in West Africa (see also Ferguson 1992, pp. 63–70). The authors
interpret the use of this traditional African architectural form as a ‘‘survival’’ that
gradually disappeared as slaves became acculturated under the dominating influence
of plantation owners and managers. In contrast, Franklin (1997, p. 5) views the
domestic assemblage from a slave household in Virginia through a lens of
creolization, or ‘‘the blending of various cultures to create a new cultural form,’’ that
recognizes the way identity and meaning are actively created. Her analysis of
foodways indicates that African-American slaves incorporated domesticated
animals and plants that were largely alien to them with West African food
preparation and cooking methods to create a distinctly creole foodway (Franklin
1997, pp. 260–261). Likewise, the recovery of charms is interpreted as evidence of
the way that ‘‘black cosmology and spirituality blended with Christianity to form an
Afro-Christian worldview’’ (Franklin 1997, p. 261).
The ways in which one or both of these two broad classes of material culture—
food remains and spiritual items—may have contributed to the creation of African-
American identities is explored in a number of recent household-based studies

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(Baumann 2001; Fennell 2000; Mullins 1996, 2002; Samford 1994, 2007; Warner
1998), some more successful than others (Singleton 1996, pp. 142–150). Baumann
(2001) considers the ways in which charms such as galena, crystals, and glass beads
may have functioned in the construction of ethnicity for African-American
households in Missouri. Despite an emphasis on context in theory, however, in
practice most of the interpretations rely on analogies with other sites. Warner (1998)
explores the role of food in the negotiation of African-American identities in
Annapolis, arguing that the two households under consideration practiced a
‘‘selective consumerism’’ that subtly separated them from the mean consumption
habits of White America. However, the sample is relatively small relative to the
long period of study (from 1858 to 1980).
Putting aside interpretations that may overextend data, a larger issue is the use of
a relatively static concept of ethnicity that, as Thomas (2005, p. 158) notes,
‘‘uncritically equates commodities with identities’’ (see also Penner 1997).
Although material culture may play a role in the construction of ethnicity, artifacts
such as charms cannot be considered emblematic of a singular African-American
identity (Thomas 2005). The meanings of material culture are often plural and
conflicted, reflecting opposing notions of identity (Casella and Fowler 2005, p. 4;
Mullins 2008, p. 167). These conflicts involve relationships of power that may be
obscured when we resort to ‘‘ethnic labeling’’ of sites and objects (Jones 1997,
p. 27), as well as when we invoke creolization as a sort of generic process (Mullins
and Paynter 2000).
Indeed, the best studies on this theme remind us that relationships between
material culture and identity are complicated. Wilkie’s (2000) study of four African-
American households on Oakley Plantation in Louisiana is exemplary for its
attention to the subtleties and varieties of identity. Commonalities are apparent
among the four households she studies; however, through the analyses of literature,
documents, oral history, and material culture, Wilkie describes the manner in which
individual identities are both created and imposed through the routines of daily
practice within the home. Perhaps her greatest contribution is in capturing the
manner in which identities change through time, over the courses of both the life
cycles of the households and the lives of individuals.
Mullins’s (1996, 2002) comparison of the patterns of consumption of late 19th-
century African-American households in Annapolis against the background of racial
ideology of the day is similarly instructive. His thorough analysis of period texts,
popular culture, and the archaeological record indicates how distinct African-
American consumption tactics ‘‘negotiated racist regulations, preserved African-
American cultural integrity, and undermined Black racial caricatures’’ (Mullins
1996, p. xix).
Through a diachronic study of households in New Orleans, Dawdy (2000b)
breaks down the concept of creolization, arguing that it may take different forms
(transplantation, ethnic acculturation, and hybridization). Elsewhere, she (Dawdy
2000a) illustrates that ethnicity may be expressed archaeologically, not only by the
type of material goods but also by their distribution. Her excavations at the Rionda-
Nelson site revealed a lack of midden, a finding she attributes to a Creole practice of
using the ‘‘outdoor room’’ as an extension of the house. The persistence of this

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pattern by a number of occupants over a number of years is attributed to a shared


creole culture and ‘‘ethnic resistance’’ to colonial, French Renaissance ideals.
Where Mullins and Dawdy find ethnically distinctive patterns of household
consumption and disposal, other researchers have had greater difficulty identifying
ethnic markers in the material culture associated with households. Stine (1989), for
example, compared two postbellum farmsteads in the North Carolina Piedmont. The
households were of similar economic position, but one family was black and the
other white. She found no meaningful differences in either the composition or
distribution of artifacts, suggesting that ethnicity had little effect on material culture.
Generalizing from this and similar studies, Cabak et al. (1999, p. 22) argue that
ethnicity played little or no role in the selection of material possessions by 20th-
century farm families. They credit the lack of ethnic markers to the ‘‘…cultural
homogeneity and standardization wrought by the nation’s emerging industrializa-
tion and consumerism.’’ These studies point to the fact that ethnicity may not be as
salient in some contexts as in others.
As the literature cited above demonstrates, studies of ethnicity in the Southeast
have been dominated by work on African-American households. Colonial European
and Native American households of the early historic period also provide fodder for
considerations of ethnicity; it was within these contexts that the concept of
creolization first developed. Scarry and McEwan (1995) compare Spanish and
Apalachee households in Mission-period northern Florida, finding little change in
the shapes, arrangements, or construction of either as a result of contact. They take
this as evidence that each group maintained distinct identities in the realm of
domestic architecture despite the otherwise profound changes resulting from
European colonization.
Traditional forms of material culture may be expected in cases where indigenous
households reject the influence of colonizers (Groover 2000). More often, however,
the evidence from colonial-era households suggests that material markers of
ethnicity are mixed, reflecting the creative construction of new identities, as well as
the filtering effects of wealth, status, and gender. Cusick (1993, 2000), for example,
examines the intersection of wealth and ethnicity through material remains and
probate records for Spanish and Minorcan households in St. Augustine in the
interval from around 1784–1821. Costume, identified through probate records,
followed well-established ethnic patterns, whereas archaeological ceramic assem-
blages were more reflective of socioeconomic status than ethnicity. Cusick argues
that while ethnicity influenced the materiality of households, the influence
decreased with the socioeconomic mobility of the household.
Loren (1999, 2000), through her study of one French and four Spanish
households on the 18th-century Louisiana/Texas frontier, considers the manner in
which colonial and mixed-blood identity was constituted in daily practices. She uses
ethnohistorical data to reconstruct imperial ideals and then compares them to
material remains of households. Loren finds that ideals were both maintained and
blurred as a result of conscious decisions made by individuals, noting that the
process of identity formation takes place at the intersection of status, race or
ethnicity, and gender.

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Riggs (1999) compares Removal-era households of Anglo-Cherokee métis and


full-blooded Cherokees in southwestern North Carolina. Combining documentary
and archaeological data, he demonstrates how both groups used various types of
media to construct and maintain ethnic boundaries. Riggs reports a high degree of
continuity of native material traditions among all households but finds that the métis
household was differentiated through a high frequency and diversity of mass-
produced, commercial goods.
Building on Riggs’s study, but working at a smaller scale, Greene (2009)
constructs a detailed narrative of identity formation for one Cherokee family who
remained in the same area of North Carolina after Removal. His analyses of artifact
and archival data reveal the manner in which the Welch family maintained their
farm through the creation of a hybrid identity—outwardly projecting the appearance
of a white plantation while inwardly maintaining the manufacture and use of many
traditional Cherokee items.
Marcoux (2008) also draws from Riggs’s work but focuses on earlier (late 17th
and early 18th century) Cherokee households at the Townsend sites in eastern
Tennessee. His comparison of six domestic pottery assemblages suggests the
existence of three distinct potting traditions, each associated with particular
households. From this evidence, Marcoux argues that the sites represent a
coalescent community (sensu Kowalewski 2006) formed as households migrated
from geographically disparate settlements, a strategy to cope with population loss
and violence associated with the British colonial period.
Southeastern archaeologists have been more cautious applying the concepts of
identity and ethnicity to the prehistoric households of the region. Such conservatism
may be warranted given the mixed mediums and messages of ethnicity represented
in the historical case studies. Without the added authority of archival records,
invoking ethnicity as an explanation for differences in material culture among
prehistoric households requires eliminating other possible explanations—particu-
larly temporal change—as a source of variation. Still, archaeological studies of
historic households demonstrate that domestic architecture and material culture are
important components of the construction of identity; there is no reason to think this
was not also the case for the native societies of the prehistoric Southeast.
Households figure prominently in the recent rethinking of Mississippian as a
historical process that involved the creation of a new Mississippian identity
(Pauketat 1994, 1997a, 2004a, b, 2007). Specifically, research at Cahokia suggests
that house construction styles changed abruptly with the founding of the community
around A.D. 1050 (Pauketat 1994, pp. 130–140, 2004a, pp. 78–80). Wall-trench
houses, perhaps produced by work crews, replaced traditional single-post structures.
From Cahokia, these and other elements of Mississippian culture are believed to
have spread across the Southeast in a process of ‘‘Mississippianization’’ that likely
involved the direct movement of people from Cahokia (Pauketat 2004a, p. 119).
Wall-trench architecture is invoked as a critical element of the ‘‘cultural blueprint’’
carried by these Middle Mississippian ‘‘pioneers’’ (Blitz and Lorenz 2006, pp. 124–
125).
Alt (2006, p. 290) has employed the concept of hybridity (sensu Bhabha 1990) to
describe the manner in which new identities were forged through the dispersal of

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Mississippian people and ideas. She offers this as an alternative to creolization,


arguing that hybridity ‘‘posits a more generalizable process that can generate
something never seen before’’ (Alt 2006, p. 291). Applying this perspective to the
immigrant communities founded in the Richland complex outside Cahokia, Alt
(2006, p. 301) notes the presence of ‘‘faux wall trenches’’ that combine elements of
the single-post and wall-trench architectural styles (see also Alt 2001, 2002;
Pauketat 2003a; Pauketat and Alt 2005).
Sassaman (2006) is one of the few archaeologists who extends the concept of
ethnicity into the more remote prehistory of the Southeast through his work on the
development of the Classic Stallings phase of the Late Archaic in the middle
Savannah River Valley. Sassaman (2006, p. 80) equates this cultural change with an
‘‘active process of asserting identity in the context of competing or alternative
identities.’’ Thus a distinctive Stallings identity was formed through the inclusion of
some people and the exclusion of others (represented by distinct archaeological
phases) with whom they competed in a ‘‘multiethnic neighborhood.’’ Social
boundary maintenance for Stallings people was achieved primarily through the use
of distinctive pottery, but Sassaman (2006, p. 94) argues that the physical
arrangement of houses was ‘‘one of the more powerful cues’’ to the expression of
ethnic differences. Specifically, Stallings houses appear to have been formally
arranged in circular compounds, whereas contemporaneous groups constructed
houses in smaller, more haphazard, arrangements.
The identification of archaeological markers of ethnicity has been described—
even by its proponents—as ‘‘difficult’’ (Thomas 2005, p. 157), ‘‘problematic’’
(Jones 1997, p. 29), and ‘‘a can of worms’’ (Kelly and Kelly 1980, p. 133). Much of
the tension lies in the burden of proof; just as material culture supports polysemic
interpretations of identity by people in the past, so too it may be difficult to decide
between competing interpretations in the present (Casella and Fowler 2005, p. 6).
As Sassaman (2006, p. 151) admits, his interpretations of ethnicity cannot be read
literally in the archaeological record and must remain largely hypothetical.
Nevertheless, as Sassaman (2006, pp. 78, 151) also contends, the reality of
contemporary ethnographic data argues that social groups in the past would have
actively created symbolic boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. The material
culture of households—domestic architecture in particular, given its greater
visibility—may serve as an important medium for such symbolism.
For the most part, archaeologists studying households in the Southeast have done
well to avoid the problems that plagued cultural–historical conceptions of identity
and ethnicity by conceptualizing these as dynamic and situational processes. The
concept of ethnicity, however, provides persistent challenges for archaeologists in
the region. First and most generally, few studies explicitly define what is meant by
‘‘ethnicity’’ or ‘‘ethnic group,’’ perhaps because there is little consensus regarding
the meaning of these terms even among cultural anthropologists (Jones 1997, p. 56;
Meskell 2007, p. 25). On a related note, it may be difficult to distinguish ethnic
groups from other collective-interest groups, such as those based on age, class,
gender, or sexuality (Jones 1997, p. 79; Meskell 2007). In the past, historical
archaeologists in the region have displayed a tendency to look at artifacts and
architecture as ethnic labels, or as symbolic ethnic trappings added on to a more

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fundamental material presence. But as Thomas (1996, p. 90) observes, places such
as houses are meaningful ‘‘all the way down.’’ For prehistoric archaeologists, the
equating of phases with ethnic groups runs the risk of reifying these groups as
bounded, homogeneous, and static.
The analysis of the political and economic dimensions of ethnicity lessens these
tendencies but can lead to an overly deterministic argument that ethnicity develops
primarily or exclusively to serve the purposes of interest groups (Jones 1997, p. 77).
These problems may be mitigated by focusing more broadly on identity, which is
often conceptualized as more individualized, contextual, and fluid (Casella and
Fowler 2005; Meskell 2007). A focus on identity also presents greater opportunity
to shift levels of analysis from the personal to the collective (Thomas 1996, p. 78)—
an obvious advantage for the analysis of social formations such as households.
Challenges remain, but as Insoll notes, the ‘‘issue is really whether one can actually
have an archaeology that is not concerned with identity’’ (Insoll 2007, p. 1,
emphasis in original).

Challenges for future research

Household archaeology in the Southeast has progressed rapidly in the past decade.
Before, the goal was the identification of general patterns of domestic behavior from
the study of more or less bounded and isolated households. Today, households in the
region are increasingly examined as creative agents embedded within larger
landscapes. Prominent areas of concern include status variation, production, and
consumption, but also newer themes such as gender, identity and ethnicity, agency
and power, and ritual and symbolism. Many studies today look to the ways that
several of these variables intersect to produce households and household practices in
particular historical contexts.
An increasingly historical, agent-based, and contextual approach has reaped
many intellectual rewards; however, it has come at the cost of reduced attention to
the position of households in social and cultural change. As Gerritsen (2004, p. 144)
observes for household studies more generally that ‘‘the focus on practices of daily
life stimulates detailed, small-scale, and synchronic studies, but at the same time
appears to stand in the way of a perspective combining the small social scale with
broader diachronic developments.’’ This problem is perhaps less acute in the
household archaeology of the Southeast than in other areas of the world; for
example, historical archaeologists connect southern, postbellum farmsteads to large-
scale economic processes operating on the order of several decades (Cabak et al.
1999; Groover 1998, 2005, 2008), whereas prehistoric archaeologists consider
changes in Mississippian households over the course of several centuries (e.g.,
Wilson 2005, 2008). Still, a principal challenge for household archaeology in the
Southeast (as elsewhere) remains the integration of this ‘‘…view of domestic life as
lived by knowledgeable agents…with models of (long-term) structural change’’
(Gerritsen 2004, p. 151).
A more practical challenge for archaeologists interested in households is the
attempt to accomplish more interpretation with less data, a reflection of preservation

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concerns and the high cost of broad horizontal exposure in excavations (Knight
2007, p. 187). This has implications for our understanding of households, as
Pauketat (2007, p. 102) notes: ‘‘there are shockingly few modern excavations of
entire domiciles, never mind multiple houses…For this reason, today’s Mississip-
pianists (outside of Cahokia-area researchers) seldom analyze the packing,
standardization, permanency, and construction cycles of eastern North American
housing.’’
Of course, several recent household studies have made productive use of data
generated by broad-scale excavations conducted under the auspices of the WPA and
other projects (e.g., Boudreaux 2007; Rodning 2004; Sullivan 2001; Wilson 2005,
2008). However, such studies, often relying on older excavation records (Knight
2007, p. 187), can never match the level of detail provided by contemporary
excavations (e.g., Hally 2008). Likewise, recent advances in remote sensing may
partially mitigate the lack of complete excavations of households by delineating the
locations of domestic architecture and related features (e.g., Perttula et al. 2008), but
they cannot mitigate the loss of carefully excavated domestic artifact assemblages.
Large-scale areal excavations are not uncommon in cultural resources manage-
ment in the Southeast. The data generated by cultural resource management projects
have been pivotal to understanding Mississippian households at Cahokia, as attested
by a number of books, book chapters, and articles (e.g., Kelly 1990a, b; Mehrer
1995, 2000; Mehrer and Collins 1995; Pauketat 2003b). In recent years, however,
cultural resource management excavations of houses seem to generate fewer peer-
reviewed publications. As Knight (2007, p. 187) observes, fewer archaeologists in
the Southeast have first-hand experience in the excavation and interpretation of
houses, and fewer still are called on to place results in larger perspective. Greater
collaboration between cultural management firms and universities could lead to
more publication of household excavations. Cultural resource management firms
also could pay bonuses for publication, as is the case with some companies in the
western United States (Matthew Bandy, personal communication, 2009).
On the other hand, large-scale excavations are not a prerequisite for investiga-
tions of households, as demonstrated best by historical archaeologists in the
Southeast. Cabak and Inkrot (1997), for example, correlate variations in the areal
extent of middens with household size and status. Nash (2009, p. 225) would draw a
distinction between studies such as this, which she would classify as the
archaeology of domestic remains, and household archaeology proper, which
considers artifacts in relation to domestic features. Nevertheless, household studies
in the Southeast could benefit from similarly creative use of limited sampling data.
Likewise, methodological approaches such as soil chemistry and microartifact
analysis should be explored to identify activity areas within and around households,
as demonstrated by recent research elsewhere (e.g., King 2007; Parnell et al. 2002;
Robin 2002; Wells et al. 2000). The benefits of the rigorous use of statistics in
household archaeology are amply illustrated by the recent work of Marcoux (2008),
who builds a strong case for the identification of archaeological households from
seemingly ambiguous data through statistical comparison of feature size, shape, and
fill.

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Household archaeology in the Southeast should be expanded to include a broader


range of domestic sites. Work on historic households is heavily weighted to
plantation homes and slave quarters of the antebellum era, and to a lesser extent the
indigenous and colonialist households of the early historic Southeast. The field has
recently expanded to include the households of African-Americans of the
postbellum era (e.g., Baumann 2001; Mullins 1996, 2002; Thomas 2005). Still,
not enough work has been devoted to the smaller households of yeoman farmers and
squatters, to the residences of other minority groups (but see Crass and Penner 1992;
Penner 1997), or to the households of the industrialized south.
The study of prehistoric households in the Southeast is heavily biased toward
those of the Mississippian period, mostly the households and farmsteads associated
with major centers such as Cahokia and Moundville. Greater attention should be
devoted to the domestic sites associated with smaller, less centralized Mississippian
polities. Perhaps more important, additional research is needed on pre-Mississippian
domestic sites. The very emergence of coresidential households in the Southeast is a
question that begs additional, focused inquiry.
While there is certainly room for southeastern archaeologists to expand their
topical coverage, it would probably not be an exaggeration to claim that no other
region in the world can match the Southeast for its breadth of archaeological study
of both prehistoric and historic households. This bridging of the colonial divide has
led to significant new insights that have informed household archaeology more
generally, particularly with regard to the dialectics of power and the construction of
identity. Household archaeology in the Southeast has been instrumental in exposing
the injustices of colonialism and the capitalist world system more generally, but also
in illuminating the creativity of responses to these forces on the part of the colonized
and oppressed.
Unfortunately, in many respects, prehistoric and historic archaeologists in the
Southeast have approached households largely in isolation from one another, as
evidenced by the seminal edited volumes regarding household archaeology in the
region (Barile and Brandon 2004; Rogers and Smith 1995). As I hope to have
demonstrated in this review, each group has something to learn from the other.
Greater dialogue would no doubt lead to a more robust body of method and theory
for the archaeology of households. Archaeologists in the Southeast also would
benefit from greater engagement with historians who have adopted anthropological
approaches to households in the region, such as Fox-Genovese (1988) and Hahn
(1983).
Notwithstanding these challenges, the future of household archaeology in the
Southeast is bright. In 1996, Hendon could easily (and perhaps rightly) omit the
Southeast from a synthesis of current research in the field; today such an omission
would be inconceivable. The benefits of the household as a unit of analysis and
interpretation have sustained an interest among scholars in the region for more than
three decades and will undoubtedly continue to do so for many years to come.

Acknowledgments A seminar some years ago with David Hally was a formative influence on my
thinking regarding households. I thank David and the other participants in that seminar, especially Ramie
Gougeon, Julie Markin, and Barnie Pavao-Zuckerman. My thinking has since benefitted from discussions

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with a number of colleagues, including Matt Bandy, David Carballo, Pat Gilman, Steve Kowalewski,
Chris Rodning, Ben Steere, Victor Thompson, Rich Wilshusen, and Don Wyckoff. Becky Zarger is a
constant source of inspiration. I thank the editors for inviting me to participate in a rewarding intellectual
exercise, and I am grateful for the helpful comments and suggestions of Jamie Brandon, T. R. Kidder,
Chris Rodning, Ken Sassaman, and three anonymous reviewers. Thanks are also extended to Shannon
McVey for her assistance with compiling the bibliography and proofreading the manuscript. All errors are
mine alone.

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Alt, S. M. (2002). Identities, traditions, and diversity in Cahokia’s uplands. Midcontinental Journal of
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Alt, S. M. (2006). The power of diversity: The roles of migration and hybridity in culture change. In
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