American Section Research at the Penn Museum

When

The Smith Creek Archaeological Project (SCAP) focuses on a Native American mound-and-plaza center that was constructed during the Coles Creek period (700-1200 CE) and continued in use into the early part of the Plaquemine period (1200-1350 CE).

Where

Coles Creek and Plaquemine cultures thrived in the fertile Lower Mississippi Valley region of the American South. Smith Creek is located in Wilkinson County in far southwestern Mississippi and sits along bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The site is located along the route of the Mississippi Mound Trail.

Researchers

  • Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology Weingarten Assistant Curator for North America, Penn Museum

Project Summary

The Smith Creek Archaeological Project (SCAP) focuses on prehistoric mound-building populations in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The Mississippi River played a defining role in the prehistory of the eastern United States. Due to the natural abundance of the river and its associated floodplains, the Lower Valley region has always been advanced in terms of monumental constructions and is home to thousands of earthen mounds. These mounds demonstrate high levels of variation in terms of form, size, and elaboration and have given rise to many unresolved debates as to their functions and meanings. Smith Creek is a mound site in southwestern Mississippi constructed during the Coles Creek period (700 – 1200 CE). Like many contemporary sites, Smith Creek consists of three earthen monuments surrounding an open plaza. Due to similarities with later sites, this layout has often been interpreted as representing chiefly villages reliant on corn agriculture. However, recent work at Coles Creek sites and re-analyses of excavated material have suggested that these early mound-and-plaza centers may have been locations for communal feasting and ritual activities aimed at bringing together a dispersed, largely egalitarian population.

Beginning in 2015 under the direction of Dr. Megan Kassabaum of the University of Pennsylvania, SCAP excavations revealed that Smith Creek’s occupation spanned the transition from Coles Creek to the later Plaquemine culture and thus might also span the transitions from egalitarian to hierarchical social organization, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from vacant ritual centers to elite villages. Excavations focus both on and off the mounds in order to understand the range of activities taking place at the site. Three Penn graduate students and seven Penn undergraduates joined SCAP for the 2015 season and specialists and students are currently studying the excavated materials that are housed at the Penn Museum. Excavations at the site will resume in Summer 2016.

Are you a Penn Student interested in participating in the excavation or helping in the lab?

Please contact Dr. Kassabaum at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. No experience necessary!

To keep up with the latest updates, follow SCAP on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/22WK526

For more information on the 2015 excavations, check out the Penn Museum blog:

http://www.penn.museum/blog/tag/smith-creek-archaeological-project/

Videos and PodCasts about the project are available at:

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