This book provides a new conceptual framework for understanding how the Indian nations of the early American South emerged from the ruins of a precolonial, Mississippian world. A broad regional synthesis that ranges over much of the Eastern Woodlands, its focus is on the Indians of the Carolina Piedmont - the Catawbas and their neighbors - from 1400 to 1725. Using an 'eventful' approach to social change, Robin Beck argues that the collapse of the Mississippian world was fundamentally a transformation of political ecomy, from one built on maize to one of guns, slaves and hides. The story takes us from first encounters through the rise of the Indian slave trade and the scourge of disease to the wars that shook the American South in the early 1700s. Yet the book's focus remains on the Catawbas, drawing on their experiences in a violent, unstable landscape to develop a comparative perspective on structural continuity and change.
Robin Beck is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and assistant curator of Eastern North American Archaeology at the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research interests include the archaeology and ethnohistory of complex societies in eastern North America and the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, early colonial encounters in what is now the southern United States, and the broader issues related to social organization and change. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Northwestern University in 2004. For his dissertation work, he excavated a Middle Formative (800-400 BC) ritual platform at the site of Alto Pukara, located in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca Basin at an altitude of 3800 m. His research at Alto Pukara used Levi-Strauss' concept of the social house to understand transformations in public space during the Formative Period. Since 2001, concurrent with his Andean work, he has co-directed the Exploring Joara Project, which focuses on the archaeology and early colonial history of Native American societies in the North Carolina Piedmont. Robin and his colleagues have directed NSF-supported research along the Catawba River at the Berry site, location of the native town of Joara and the Spanish garrison Fort San Juan, built by the Juan Pardo expedition in 1567. Manned by thirty soldiers for eighteen months, this fort is the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States. Its excavation is shedding new light on the process and practice of colonialism near the very beginning of the colonial era.