With support from the National Science Foundation, and in collaboration with friend and colleague Dr. Victor Thompson (University of Georgia), I have conducted several years of archaeological research at the Crystal River site, a mound complex on the Gulf Coast of Florida dating primarily to the Woodland period (ca. 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1000). Crystal River has long been noted as one of the most important sites in North America, but—prior to our recent work—remained poorly understood due to the limited scope and under-reporting of previous investigations. Our research was designed to examine the dynamic between cooperation and competition in the formation of early village societies, a topic that has rarely been a focus of concerted study, although notions regarding competition and cooperation are implicit in archaeological theories of human societies.
The project employed two methods for accomplishing this research objective, while respecting the need for site conservation: 1) comprehensive reanalysis of the collections from previous investigations; and, 2) systematic, minimally invasive new field work to both correct the biases and limited scope of previous studies. The field investigations included geophysical survey, coring, and test excavations. Laboratory analyses include a variety of archaeological dating techniques, as well as studies to determine season of occupation and rate of deposition.
The research—summarized in numerous publications (some linked below) and a recent book entitled New Histories of Village Life at Crystal River (University of Florida Press, 2018) contributes to the understanding of the dynamic between competition and cooperation in human societies---one of the foremost issues in the social sciences. The project also contributes to the study of social complexity through focused study of early villages, precursors to better-studied ranked and stratified societies. Additionally, the project contributes to the understanding of Crystal River and related sites of the Woodland period on the Gulf Coast, an area and time period marked by one of the most distinctive, yet least understood, material culture complexes in the prehistory of North America. Finally, the insights that have been generated through our study are being applied to enhance on-site museum displays, signs, and brochures, better interpreting for the general public one of the nation’s most important archaeological sites.