Per usual, Meg really got me thinking with her post on ceremonialism, bears, and postholes at the Feltus site. Though I can’t speak much to the issue of bears (except to say that they are awesome), I have thought some about postholes with unique and seemingly purposeful fill. Like Meg, I’ve spent the last few years working at a Woodland period ceremonial aggregation site – in my case, the Garden Creek site (31Hw2 and 8) in western North Carolina. This site was first systematically investigated in the 1960s by Bennie Keel, and has more recently been subjected to geophysical survey and targeted investigation as past of my dissertation research.
During both of these phases of research, archaeologists identified postholes that appeared to be specially backfilled. Under Mound No. 2, Bennie (1976) noted a series of 29 postholes uniquely filled with a combination of dark colored midden soil and white coarse sand. These posts demarcated a single structure measuring 20 x 19.5 feet. Of the (at least) six structures below the mound (Wright in press), this was the only one whose posts received such special treatment.
Even more complicated post-post removal activities were associated with Garden Creeks Enclosure 1, a small, sub-rectangular ditch enclosure that may (or may not) have once been complemented by an earthen embankment (Wright 2012). The original ditch, which measured about a meter deep and nearly two meters wide at the top, appears to have been purposefully filled in with earth and refuse. Once it was completely backfilled, a line of large posts was erected through the middle of the former ditch. At some later date, these posts were pulled up, and then their holes were carefully filled with small to medium-sized river cobbles. As a result, we only recognized these features as postholes once all the surrounding sediment was removed, when we were left with a line of tightly packed columns of rocks!
Meanwhile, a small (2×3 m) excavation unit inside the enclosure revealed a complicated scatter of more than 30 postholes. Several of these included fragments of sheet mica at their base – again, something that appears to have been purposefully put there after a post was removed (or maybe, before a post was inserted, and then left there after it was removed).
The reasons why these posts were removed and these postholes so distinctively backfilled have yet to be thoroughly investigated. Recently, it was suggested to me that the river cobbles in the ditch’s postholes might have something to do with land/water symbolism that has been proposed as an important design principle at other Woodland enclosures (Whyte, personal communication). More generally, it’s my hunch (which Meg addresses in her comment to her 10/8 post) that these posts represent some sort of ritual closure event (Heitman 2007). In this scenario, the ceremonially significant features (posts, screen, structures, etc.) that produced these postholes would have been as temporary as the ritually motivated aggregations of people at these sites. Plausibly, they were re-erected and re-dismantled as the site was re-visited.
I am really intrigued by Meg’s idea about a need to close down potentially dangerous trans-worldly portals; that seems to sit well with the idea of some of these singular poles served as “axis mundi” (Brown 2006; Kimball et al. 2010). I wonder if a similar case could be made for multi-post features, or if something else was at work. In these latter cases, a life history approach to entire architectural components (i.e., the mound and submound deposits as a whole, the original enclosure ditch/backfilled ditch/post outline as a whole) may offer a productive line of inquiry. The Garden Creek data set suggests that the ceremonies associated with these constructions changed dramatically over time. However, these alterations were not random; they depended on the features that were there before. Mound No. 2 didn’t go just anywhere – it went over the specially filled posts of Structure 1. Same goes for the rock filled posts, which conform far too closely to the outline of the ditch to be a matter of coincidence.
Meg, any sense of the timing of the postholes you encountered at Feltus? Did they all get pulled and backfilled in one go, or could it have been a staggered set of events? Does anyone else know where else such posts have been encountered? Is this just a Woodland thin, or is there an Archaic precedent or Mississippian/ historic incarnation as well? What other takes do you have on these features?
Brown, James A. 2006 The Shamanic element in the Hopewell Period ritual. In Recreating Hopewell, edited by Douglas K. Charles and Jane E. Buikstra, pp. 475-488. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
Heitman, Carrie C. 2007 Houses Great and Small: Re-evaluating the Construction of Hierarchy in Chaco Canyon, NM, A.D. 850-1180. In The Durable House: Architecture, Ancestors and Origins, edited by Robin Beck. 22nd Annual Visiting Scholar Conference, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.
Keel, Bennie 1976 Cherokee Archaeology. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Kimball, L.R., T.R. Whyte, and G. Crites 2010 The Biltmore and Hopewellian Mound Use in the Southern Appalachians. Southeastern Archaeology 29(1):44-58.
Knight, Vernon James, Jr. 2001 Feasting and the Emergence of Platform Mound Ceremonialism in Eastern North America. In Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, edited by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden, pp. 239-254. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
Wright, Alice P. In press Under the Mound: The Early Life History of the Garden Creek Mound No. 2 Site. In Early and Middle Woodland Landscapes of the Southeast, edited by Alice P. Wright and Edward R. Henry. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
Wright, Alice P. 2012 “Artifacts Writ Large”: Ditch Enclosures and Middle Woodland Interaction in Southern Appalachia. 77th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Memphis, TN.