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Randall Asa R. Constructing Histories: Archaic Freshwater Shell Mounds and Social Landscapes of the St. Johns River, Florida

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Randall Asa R. Constructing Histories: Archaic Freshwater Shell Mounds and Social Landscapes of the St. Johns River, Florida
University Press of Florida, 2015. — 344 p.
In the popular imagination, the St. Johns River valley in northeast Florida is one of the last “natural” landscapes. This image relies on unawareness of the extent of landscape modification accomplished during the pre-Columbian era by hunter-gatherers. This book examines how communities of hunter-gatherers actively transformed the landscape through the construction of shell mounds between 7,400 and 4,600 years ago during the Archaic period. Although long identified simply as trash piles, these mounds, as Asa R. Randall argues from an empirically grounded and theoretically informed perspective, were central to the histories and social geography of the region’s inhabitants. A critical review of paleoclimate data demonstrates that shellfishing emerged during a period of rapid climate change, and communities continued to experience changing ecological conditions throughout the era. The architectural traditions of shell sites are reconstructed through an analysis of historic observations and modern remote sensing data, which demonstrate that communities constructed a wide variety of ceremonial shell mounds, habitation spaces, and burial mounds through time and space in response to climate change and increased scales of social interaction. When viewed as a historical process, communities actively constructed places through the deposition of shell, earth, and other materials in place and routinely invoked the past by referencing or including pre-existing places in later constructions. In so doing, they created and re-created and ongoing a social landscape filled with meaning and significance.
Asa R. Randall is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.
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