Lecture 5. The Holocene and the Emerging Riverine/Shore and Mound Cultures

created by:

Mark Jarzombek

from the module:

First Societies

This lecture introduces the Holocene (around 10,000 BCE) and its consequences for the development of social forms. It is often argued that the Holocene set the stage for agriculture. This lecture starts from this premise, and demonstrates that the Holocene also set the stage for an expansion of First Society cultures. By 3,000 BCE, around the time we see the first cities in Mesopotamia, we see extensive First Society cultures developing in areas of particularly rich and diverse flora and fauna. The most notable of these was the emergence of fish-based and ocean-shore societies that spread rapidly by 3,000 BCE especially in the Alaskan-Canadian Pacific Region. That culture has its origins with the Jomon in Japan. The first part of the lecture, therefore, covers the civilizational arc around the northern Pacific from Japan to the Haida. The common threads are salmon fishing and the pit house. The pit house tradition was one of the most extensive and long-lasting architectural traditions in all of history. I discuss the Haida to emphasize the affluence of this culture and to review their extensive architectural world-view. Around 3,000 BCE, if not earlier, another affluent First Society emerged in the lower Mississippi River area. Their contribution comes in the form of mounds and plazas. These are basically man/woman-made sacred landscapes that are the settings for ritual ceremonial events that last for weeks or longer during the winter or spring. People traveled from very far away to these places. The shamans who controlled them lived at the sites year-round. The mounds were built most likely by the visitors as part of the ceremony itself. They were at the center of an elaborate ceremonial landscape where people came to exchange goods, socialize, and partake in long, sacred dances. The lecture discusses the sad legacy of these mounds and plazas today in the U.S. It is estimated that about 98% are no longer extant, leaving us little clue about the extensive nature and significance of this landscape.

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