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Watson Brake, a Middle Archaic Mound Complex in Northeast Louisiana

  • Joe W. Saunders (a1), Rolfe D. Mandel (a2), C. Garth Sampson (a3), Charles M. Allen (a4), E. Thurman Allen (a5), Daniel A. Bush (a6), James K. Feathers (a7), Kristen J. Gremillion (a8), C. T. Hallmark (a9), H. Edwin Jackson (a10), Jay K. Johnson (a11), Reca Jones (a1), Roger T. Saucier (a12), Gary L. Stringer (a13) and Malcolm F. Vidrine (a14)...

Abstract

Middle Archaic earthen mound complexes in the lower Mississippi valley are remote antecedents of the famous but much younger Poverty Point earthworks. Watson Brake is the largest and most complex of these early mound sites. Very extensive coring and stratigraphic studies, aided by 25 radiocarbon dates and six luminescence dates, show that minor earthworks were begun here at ca. 3500 B.C. in association with an oval arrangement of burned rock middens at the edge of a stream terrace. The full extent of the first earthworks is not yet known. Substantial moundraising began ca. 3350 B.C. and continued in stages until some time after 3000 B.C. when the site was abandoned. All 11 mounds and their connecting ridges were occupied between building bursts. Soils formed on some of these temporary surfaces, while lithics, fire-cracked rock, and fired clay/loam objects became scattered throughout the mound fills. Faunal and floral remains from a basal midden indicate all-season occupation, supported by broad-spectrum foraging centered on nuts, fish, and deer. All the overlying fills are so acidic that organics have not survived. The area enclosed by the mounds was kept clean of debris, suggesting its use as ritual space. The reasons why such elaborate activities first occurred here remain elusive. However, some building bursts covary with very well-documented increases in El Niño/Southern Oscillation events. During such rapid increases in ENSO frequencies, rainfall becomes extremely erratic and unpredictable. It may be that early moundraising was a communal response to new stresses of droughts and flooding that created a suddenly more unpredictable food base.

Résumé

Los complejos de montículos de tierra del Arcaico Medio del valle del río Mississippi son los antecedentes remotos de los famosos montículos de Poverty Point, que se fechan mucho más temprano. Watson Brake es el más grande y el más complejo de estos sitios tempranos de montículos. Los estudios extensivos estratigráficos y de bloques de sedimentos taladrados, o sean corazones, junto con la obtención de 25 fechas de radicarbono y seis fechas de luminiscencia, muestran que la construcción de montículos pequeños comenzó aquí hacia 3500 a.C. en asociación con un arreglo oval de piedras quemadas ubicado al borde de la terraza del río. La extension espacial de estos primeros montículos de tierra no ha sido establecida todavía. La construcción sustancial de montículos comenzó hacia 3350 a.C. y continuó a través de varias fases hasta después de 3000 a. C. cuando el sitio fue abandonado. Los once montículos con sus crestas interconectadas fueron ocupados entre estadios rápidos de construcción. Las capas de sedimentos se acumularon en algunas de las superficies temporales de estos componentes de tierra, mientras que el material lítico, las piedras fracturadas por fuego y los objetos de arcilla o tierra arcillosa cocida se dispersaron por todos partes del montículo. El registro faunístico y arqueobotánico de los depósitos basales demuestran que el sitio fue ocupado durante todas las estaciones del año, idea apoyada por una subsistencia concentrada en la explotación de nueces, peces y venado. Las capas estratigráficas más superficiales son de una matriz muy ácida, la cual ha impedido la conservación de restos orgánicos. El área circundada por los montículos fue mantenida limpia y libre de despojos, los que sugiere que tenía una función ceremonial. Las razones por las cuales tales actividades se llevaron a cabo aquí no son claras. Sin embargo, algunas de las fases de construcción se correlacionan con algunos de los períodos mejor documentados de aumentos de los eventos de El Niño. Durante aumentos rápidos en la frecuencia de ENSO, las lluvias ocurren en forma irregular e imprevisible. Es posible que la construcción de montículos de tierra fuera una respuesta comunal a presiones causadas por una imprevisible escasez de recursos, la cual estuvo ligada a sequías e inundaciones.

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