Shell Mounds of the Middle St. Johns Basin, Northeast Florida

Kenneth E. Sassaman and Asa R. Randall

in Early New World Monumentality

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780813038087
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813043128 | DOI:
Shell Mounds of the Middle St. Johns Basin, Northeast Florida

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Shell and earthen mounds of northeast Florida began to take form some 6000 years ago as places of habitation were transformed into entombments for the ancestors and arenas of social action. The onset of mound building coincides with the cessation of subaqueous burials, a longstanding tradition of emplacing the dead in shallow, freshwater ponds. This transformation in ritual practice coincides with major environmental and demographic change in the region, notably the expansion of wetland habitat and concomitant increase in human settlement. In this chapter we explore the historical and cultural relationships between northeast Florida's oldest monuments and the pond burial tradition that preceded them. The appearance of nonlocal ritual items in some of the oldest mounds lends credence to the hypothesis that the transformation from pond burials to mounds entailed a transformation from corporate to network organization in which the basis for social authority was increasingly derived from long-distance alliances. We explore the implications of such a transformation on the mobilization of labor, institutions of social ranking, and economic change.

Keywords: shell mounds; historical practice; Archaic period; mortuary ritual; wetlands; hunter-gatherer

Chapter.  8726 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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