Late Prehistory

The book, Mississippian Towns and Sacred Spaces: Searching for an Architectural Grammar, which was a joint project with Chuck Stout, examines from a cross-cultural perspective the meanings assigned to the design of Mississippian towns in the southeastern United States. I began the research in 1992 because I felt that archaeological interpretations of architecture in eastern U.S. archaeology emphasized mostly descriptive goals and functional interpretations and did not provide a framework within which one could explain the archaeologically documented similarities and differences of late prehistoric towns. Chuck Stout, one of my former students, joined me as co-editor in this project.

A key shortcoming we identified in the research being done at the time was that archaeological studies of architecture in the eastern U.S. drew almost entirely on theoretical treatments and cases from Europe, the Near East, and Mesoamerica. What was missing were possible insights that could be gained from the comparative analysis of profoundly different architectural traditions. These traditions, when viewed in cross-cultural perspective, would, I reasoned, enable us to examine Native American architectural expressions from fresh perspectives. I decided to begin by developing first-hand familiarity with the archaeology of the traditional Asian city, which, even now, is poorly understood by Western archaeologists. I was fortunate enough to be able to gain this familiarity at the city of Vijayanagara in South India during the winter of 1993-94. Out of this experience, and my subsequent retraining as a South Asianist, I developed the theoretical motivation for the Mississippian towns book.