Bridget Murray
Professor Casey Barrier

A Geographic & Geophysical Analysis of Mississippian Archaeology in the American Bottom

The archaeological region of the United States known as the American Bottom, located east of the Mississippi River in Illinois, was the first site of urbanization in North America and has been studied largely via government-mandated cultural resource management (CRM) surveys at proposed construction sites since the 1970s. Part I of this project contextualizes these extensive surveys (numbering 500-600 for the counties included) as I build from scratch a geographic information system (GIS) database compiling site information (use, time period, size) and survey report details obtained through an Illinois CRM database. This database will enable analysis of settlement patterns from the Late Woodland thru Mississippian periods (A.D. 600-1350) along attribute and spatial parameters, the latter of which is particularly significant for describing the composition of an archaeologically dense area such as the American Bottom.

Part II of this project focuses specifically on the site of Cahokia through a series of geophysical surveys studying effects of early urbanization on the landscape. Other American Bottom sites show a period of settlement aggregation followed by rapid decline in the centuries prior to the period of growth this study addresses. This period, concurrent with maize domestication, will likely be marked by population clustering evident in habitation sites and farmsteads. Geophysical surveys using magnetic readings and ground penetrating radar (GPR) detect soil anomalies, producing maps showing features such as houses, fences, and fire pits which we would expect to see in a growing settlement. This information may be incorporated into the system developed in the first part of this project and analyzed alongside other American Bottom sites.