[Review] Sweeney on Pluckhahn and Thompson--cross-posted from H-AmIndian

Joshua Jeffers's picture

Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Victor D. Thompson. New Histories of Village
Life at Crystal River. Florida Museum of Natural History: Ripley P.
Bullen Series. Gainesville University of Florida Press, 2018.
Illustrations, tables. 298 pp. $79.95 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Kara Bridgman Sweeney (Georgia Southern University)
Published on H-AmIndian (September, 2018)
Commissioned by F. Evan Nooe

Contextualizing Early Villages in Pre-Columbian Florida

In_ New Histories of Village Life at Crystal River_, Thomas J.
Pluckhahn and Victor D. Thompson provide a valuable history of one of
the most significant southeastern archaeological sites, the
three-thousand-plus-year-old Crystal River site in the central Gulf
Coast of Florida. The authors trace the origins of the site as a
ceremonial center and mortuary complex, and outline evidence for the
major phases of site use and landscape transformation. This volume
from University of Florida Press also reads as a partial history of
generational changes in Florida archaeology, as Pluckhahn and
Thompson ably summarize many years of research and various approaches
to excavation, analysis, and interpretation.

While southeastern Indians began altering and transforming landscapes
during the Middle Archaic period, we lack evidence for sedentary
villages with public architecture before the Woodland period (circa
1000 BC-AD 1050). Pluckhahn and Thompson consider this co-occurrence
of site features during the Woodland period a cultural milestone for
the American Southeast: a fundamental "restructuring of the cultural
landscape" (p. 4). At the Crystal River site, and at the later
Roberts Island complex sites to the west, the authors note,
relatively permanent settlement would have been supported by the rich
local estuarine and marine environment.

Chapters 1 and 2 of the volume provide historical context for the
Crystal River site and other examples of early village societies.
Previous work at the Crystal River site, conducted in the early and
mid-twentieth century, established Crystal River as one of the most
significant Woodland period sites in the Southeast, and as part of
the Hopewell Interaction Sphere that extends into the midwestern
United States. This earlier work was unsystematic and under-reported,
focused primarily on the earthen and shell mounds and on artifacts
made of exotic materials like copper.

Chapters 3-7 detail how the processes of early village formation were
actualized at Crystal River, focusing on the local histories of the
site before turning to a greater spatial scale in an extended
discussion (in chapter 8) of early village development in the Gulf
Coast region. Specifically, the authors place Crystal River's
transitions toward early village formation in broader social and
cultural context, with comparisons to the Kolomoki and Garden Patch
archaeological sites (in Georgia and Florida, respectively). Woodland
period villages can be viewed as "population aggregations" that
occurred as part of macroregional processes, and not as isolated
examples, according to the authors.

Pluckhahn and Thompson present a refined chronology for the Crystal
River site throughout its history, placing the different cultural and
occupational sequences (and episodes of construction and layering) at
the site in broader regional context. Additionally, the authors
synthesize their recent investigations and relate the results of
their reanalyses of legacy collections held in state and federal
repositories. These discussions build support for the thesis that
Woodland period villages with large-scale public works (including
enclosures, shell mounds, and platform mounds) are best understood in
relation to historical and regional processes of cooperation and
competition. The development of a complete chronological framework
for the Crystal River site, beginning with its genesis as a
destination for communal ceremonies, is arguably the most significant
contribution of the book.

Directly dating Crystal River site deposits has been challenging even
with the benefit of contemporary field methods. In a detailed
description of dating techniques used at the site, the authors
discuss ways in which shell-bearing samples can provide older and
less reliable dates and related discrepancies, due to the marine
reservoir effect and hardwater effect. This is one of many cautionary
tales offered by the authors, and it is of great value to any
researcher working on similar archaeological questions. Bayesian
analyses of radiocarbon data are both summarized and explained here.
The use of geophysical techniques allowed teams directed by Pluckhahn
and Thompson to plan minimally invasive excavations in keeping with
the current preservation ethic, and methods including coring targeted
portions of the site to address specific research questions. The
authors also excavated trenches in one-meter sections in order to
capture stratigraphic views of midden and other potential cultural
features in select areas. Notably, no coring or trenching was
conducted in burial mound areas during these recent investigations.

Although the Crystal River site location was timbered in the early
twentieth century and the area saw increased development (including
bulldozing and shell mining) starting in the 1950s, many subsurface
cultural deposits remain. This is largely thanks to the efforts of
archaeologist Ripley Bullen to develop relationships with landowners
so the state might acquire specific parcels over time. Resistance
survey data allowed Pluckhahn and Thompson to recognize subsurface
midden and mound features, and ground penetrating radar data revealed
shifts in the composition of midden in some portions of the site.
Illustrations of geophysical patterns showing more reflective shell
layers and less reflective sands are described in detail.

Multiple figures throughout the text make it possible to track
decades of field investigations at the Crystal River site, beginning
with the earliest excavation and mapping project by Clarence B. Moore
in 1903. A single comprehensive map (perhaps as a color foldout
graphic) might have allowed readers to more easily synthesize the
many investigations at the Crystal River site over the years.
Labeling all mounds, and depicting the locations of all cores and
trenches (containing numbered units) at the site, would prevent
confusion about references to comparative data in discussion sections
of the text.

Substantial contributions developed as part of student theses and
dissertations are credited throughout this work, and the authors are
to be commended for having provided research and publication
opportunities to junior scholars. Pluckhahn and Thompson also
formally acknowledge and cite their former students and other junior
colleagues throughout this volume.

_New Histories of Village Life at Crystal River_ is a valuable
addition to southeastern archaeological research. Archaeologists and
historians with interests in early village formation and
archaeological field methods would benefit from reading this volume.
Readers interested in best practices for comparative research will
appreciate the detailed descriptions and explanations of current
analytical techniques involving legacy collections. The location of
the archaeological site on state lands within Crystal River
Archaeological State Park allowed teams directed by Pluckhahn and
Thompson to engage in public outreach, which was bolstered by
significant grant funding toward research and interpretation that
notably increased the visibility of archaeology in the broader region
(in my opinion).

Citation: Kara Bridgman Sweeney. Review of Pluckhahn, Thomas J.;
Thompson, Victor D., _New Histories of Village Life at Crystal
River_. H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews. September, 2018.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52427