The Moundville Plaza Project (MPP) is a multi-stage collaborative research project headed by Dr. John Blitz, archaeology professor at the University of Alabama. Chet Walker of Archaeo-Geophysical Associates, LLC, heads the remote sensing program. I, Jera Davis, direct the field excavations and laboratory analysis of artifacts. I also have the pleasure of sharing our findings with the public through this blog. The MPP is my dissertation project.
Moundville’s vast plaza redefined and ramped up public activity at a critical moment in the crystallization of a new sociopolitical order. When it was built (around AD 1250), the remains of former gathering places were either buried beneath plaza fills or obliterated as their locations were leveled. It is likely that some of these were subsequently rebuilt in place while others were not. My dissertation project approaches these acts as decisions to selectively remember or forget aspects of an older communal tradition – an effort to ground a new communalism in a reimagined past, or “social memory.” In early complex societies like Moundville, social memory countered kin-group factionalism and justified emerging differences in rank and privilege. It was strategically materialized in the spaces and landscapes where people lived.
The primary goal of the MPP is to map the distribution and arrangements of public buildings in Moundville’s plaza. Aided by a magnetometer survey of unprecedented scale in Mississippian archaeology, we can realize this goal. The survey has revealed the locations of magnetic anomalies that are thought to represent buried buildings. A sample of these buildings must be “ground-truthed,” that is, exposed through archaeological excavations so that similar remains elsewhere in the plaza can be confidently interpreted without time-consuming and costly excavation. Additional high-resolution magnetometer surveys will target the locations of complex architectural arrangements that cannot be interpreted from the existing low-resolution survey data.
A secondary goal of the project is to refine present understanding of the pace and process of plaza construction. To this end, soil samples have been and will continue to be collected from excavation units for specialized analyses.
Funding for the MPP is provided by an Alabama Historical Commission grant, the University of Alabama (UA), and the UA Department of Anthropology.
I welcome any and all questions relating to this work. Furthermore, you are invited you to visit us in the field any day of the week (except Friday afternoons) May 21-June 29, July 9-July 27.