On June 13, Dr. Paul Welch of the Queens College Department
of Anthropology spoke to the PreColumbian Society. His talk, "Politics
and Economics in the Old, Old South", explored the social organization
and political alliances of the Mississippian moundbuilders in the south
eastern United States. Traditionally,archeologists and ethnographers have
considered the Mississippian moundbuilders of 1O5O-1550 to have been organized
into chiefdoms, with redistributional economies in which each village within
a region specialized in the production of goods derived from a particular
Investigating the archeological record has not shown Dr. Welch evidence of this small scale specialization. Instead, he has found that all villages in his study seemed to be located on good farmland, along transportation routes. Further, the same distribution and types of pottery, stone tools and food remains were found in village middens. Dr. Welch further found that ethnographic studies of modern chiefdoms did not support the redistributional model: chiefs really don't distribute goods to members of the village.
Dr. Welch's excavations at Moundville and smaller sites do show the existence of a stratified society through the differing sizes and elaboration of burials, residences and settlements. Although each community appeared to be self sufficient, tribute goods appeared to have been sent to the larger, more prestigious settlements. Dr.Welch also believes that political alliances within the Mississippian society were reflected in the paths of these tribute and trade goods. He found evidence of extensive trade between Moundville and western sites, such as Shiloh, but none of trade between Moundville and Etowah to the east. This, he believes, demonstrates that relations between these two sites were strained at best.
Results of his work were published in his book, "Moundville's Economy" (1991, Univ of Alabama Press), and appeared in chapters in several edited volumes, e.g., "Control over Goods and the Political Stability of the Moundville Chiefdom" in Political Strucure and Change in the Prehistoric Southeastern United States, edited by John Scarry (1996, Univ Press of Florida), and "Outlying Sites in the Moundville Chiefdom" in Studies in Moundville Archaeology, edited by V. James Knight, Jr. (due out this fall from Smithsonian Inst. Press).
Besides his research in Alabama, he has been on numerous excavations in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, New Mexico,in England, the Netherlands, and Iraq.
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