Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Feasting and Communal Ritual in the Lower Mississippi Valley, AD 700-1000

This dissertation examines prehistoric activity at the Feltus site (22Je500) in Jefferson County, Mississippi, to elucidate how Coles Creek (AD 700-1200) platform mound sites were used. Data from excavations undertaken by the Feltus Archaeological Project from 2006 to 2012 support the conclusion that Coles Creek people utilized Feltus episodically for some 400 years, with little evidence of permanent habitation. More specifically, the ceramic, floral, and faunal data suggest that Feltus provided a location for periodic ritual events focused around food consumption, post-setting, and mound building. The rapidity with which the middens at Feltus were deposited and the large size of the ceramic vessels implies that the events occurring there brought together large groups of people for massive feasting episodes. The vessel form assemblage is dominated by open bowls and thus suggests an emphasis on food consumption, with less evidence for food preparation and virtually none for food storage. Overall, the ceramic assemblage emphasizes a great deal of continuity in the use of the Feltus landscape from the earliest occupation, during the Hamilton Ridge phase, through the latest, during the Balmoral phase. Evidence from the food remains further supports these conclusions. Faunal remains indicate that the Feltus diet consisted mainly of large mammals and fish, and botanical remains suggest a focus on nuts and wild seeds, with limited evidence for domesticated chenopod. An emphasis on exceptionally large animals (including bear) and easily amassable plant resources further implies large, communal eating events. The presence of ritually important plants, smoking pipes, and bear remains in the Feltus deposits suggest that the meals that occurred these events were ceremonial. The final chapter offers a general scheme for identifying, describing, and comparing feasting events in the archaeological record. Based on this comparative framework, I argue that the feasts and communal rituals taking place at Coles Creek sites need not have been competitive, but rather may have emphasized community building and highlighted the shared identity of the participants.