Surveys Unlimited Research Associates, Inc.

prehistoricArchaeology in the Southeast

History and Prehistory

The first people appeared in the Southeast at least 12,000 years ago—and maybe a good many years before that. By 3,000 B.C. they were building Indian mounds and by roughly 1,500 B.C., the great Poverty Point site in northeast Louisiana was the focus of a wide-ranging trade network. In the first years of the Christian Era, a rich “woodland” culture developed, with ties to Indian groups of the Ohio Valley. A thousand years ago, new influences began to affect the Southeast, radiating from the great mound center at Cahokia, Illinois, and from Moundville, Alabama. These influences resulted in the construction of great multi-mound centers and the introduction of new, different types of pottery. These cultures were probably in decline at the time of the first white contact in the mid- 16th century, although diseases introduced by the Spanish explorers may have been the cause behind the disintegration of these Indian groups.

Thus, not only do most areas of the Southeast have a rich history, beginning with the Exploration and Colonial periods, but there are thousands of years of occupation before that, an occupation often only evidenced by a few flakes and pieces of pottery.


While the standard methodology in archaeology continues to be the individual worker with a shovel or trowel, the modern age has brought additions and refinements. For instance, backhoeheavy machines such as backhoes are often utilized, especially where time is of the essence. A backhoe can quickly remove the overburden at a site, exposing the culture-bearing level below. Backhoes are also valuable when searching for unmarked cemeteries, as they allow the removal of topsoil, exposing the outlines of graves.

In today’s archaeology, remote sensing has become an important tool in many situations. Remote sensing techniques vary from aerial photo interpretation to ground penetrating radar and gradiometry. These techniques, because they do not require actual excavation, often provide cost-effective ways of suggesting how the archaeologist should allocate time and funds.