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Etowah Beginnings: New Research into the Origins of a Mississippian Polity

May 23, 2021 @ 2:00 pm 3:30 pm PDT

Mississippian culture (AD 1000-1600) is characterized by intensive agriculture, a suite of ornate religious paraphernalia and monumental architecture, including large earthen pyramids. Mississippian practices and beliefs spread across much of the Eastern Woodlands of North America. The Etowah site, located in modern day Georgia, is considered to be one of the preeminent mound centers in the Mississippian world and the central polity in the Southern Appalachian region. While Etowah has long been the focus of archaeological research, the socio-political origins of the site have received little attention. Recent research has revealed that Etowah’s origins emerged out of interactions among multiple different ethnic groups. My ongoing research seeks to determine who these groups were and how they interacted through the analysis of pottery assemblages recovered from dense middens at the Etowah site. These middens have been interpreted as the remnants of large-scale-feasting events associated with the founding of the site and initial mound construction. Results reveal that the pottery from these contexts are linked to both local and non-local groups from eastern Tennessee. Thus, Etowah emerged out of the interactions of disparate ethnic groups who were brought together by a newly adopted belief system, which they sought to manifest by large scale religious-ceremonial events.

Matthew LoBiondo received his B.A. in Anthropology and History from the University of Vermont, his M.A. in Anthropology from Monmouth University, and currently is a graduate student within the Anthropology department at UC Santa Barbara. He has been the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award at Monmouth University, as well as the UC Santa Barbara Anthropology’s Brian Fagan Fund. He has conducted pre-Columbian and historic research across the Northeastern, Southeastern and Midwestern United States. Broadly, his research interests focus on the emergence of complex societies, culture contact and migration, informed by contemporary research on human agency, practice, identity, and learning theories. Matthew’s current research explores the spread of Mississippian practices in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States by exploring the transfer of knowledge and the daily practice of pre-Columbian people. Most recently he has conducted research into the multi-ethnic origins of the Mississippian polity of Etowah, located in northwestern Georgia.

Mr. LoBiondo is a recipient of a 2020 AIA Orange County Society Grant.

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