Sweetgum's Amber: Animate Mound Landscapes and the Nonlinear Longue Durée in the Native South

Bloch, Lee, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Dobrin, Lise, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Mentore, George, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Weston, Kath, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Schmidt, Jalane, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation centers the study of the mound landscapes on an Indigenous people’s knowledges and ongoing relationships with ancestral places. Thousands of these earthen mounds sit across eastern North America, constructed by Native American peoples over the previous five thousand years. My data is based on ethnographic research conducted in partnership with members of a small Native American community in the Southeastern U.S. who identify as having Muskogee (Creek) ancestry, but maintain their own understandings of the meaning of individual mounds and their interconnections in the past and present. The mounds visited and discussed are distributed widely across the Eastern U.S. (from Illinois to Florida). Popular history, interpretive signage, and dominant archaeological discourses frame mounds as abandoned sites and places “of the past,” yet these landscapes remain powerful and animate presences for members of this Native American community. Oral traditions shared with me describe mounds as places along roads traveled by celestial teachers and human traders, who helped resolve conflicts between warring communities and create peace. These routes extend into the present as animate mounds enroll my hosts into relations of exchange and care, particularly through circulations of ancestral objects, soils, and dreams. In these moments, members of the community cultivate vulnerability to ancestral affects and attend to landscapes wounded by ongoing settler violence. As my hosts visit mound landscapes, they are drawn into a nonlinear, Indigenous longue durée: an emergent space-time of winding, interconnected paths along which stories, things, soils, and dreams circulate. 

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
North America, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Decolonizing Methodologies, Archaeological Ethnography, Time and Temporality, Oral Traditions, Landscape, Vital Materialisms
Sponsoring Agency:
National Science FoundationWenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological ResearchAmerican Philosophical Society
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