Although plazas have a lengthy and variable history in southeastern North America, by the Mississippian period (ca. 1000–1500 CE), they had assumed some degree of conformity: they were square to rectangular in shape, anchored the approximate center of a settlement, often had additional inclusions such as public buildings or earthen monuments, and were the arenas of secular and religious public activities. We suggest that the importance of these architectural features to Mississippian life ways can be attributed to two characteristics that are widely shared with other cultures that also employed plazas as a form of axis mundi. First, their construction represents an event that arrests temporality and draws attention to their pivotal role in synchronizing ritual life. Second, their relatively open architecture confers them a relational flexibility that allows for the linkage of a wide variety of spaces, things, and beings. A quantitative and qualitative study of 35 Mississippian plazas demonstrates discrepancies from a linear relationship between plaza size and site size that may be related to variation in the kinds of performances that were conducted in these public places at different types of settlements. Despite this variation, the ubiquity of plazas suggests that they were pivotal to the founding of Mississippian places, and may have been important for reestablishing a sense of cosmological order for migrating communities.
Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 8, 2016
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