Research Laboratories of Archaeology

LMS Archives Online: An Introduction (by Stephen Williams)

The Lower Mississippi Survey (LMS) of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, was founded in the Fall of 1939 by Philip Phillips, a then soon-to-be Harvard PhD in North American archaeology (June, 1940). It was in that autumn (1939) that he went to Baton Rouge to join up with James A. Ford of Louisiana State University and James B. Griffin of the University of Michigan in a field program of an archaeological survey that would run from the Spring of 1940 until the Spring of 1947 (with time out for World War II). The region covered by this specific survey (reported in Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951) would include an area of the Lower Valley from Northeast Arkansas to the southern part of the Yazoo Basin in Mississippi.

The Baton Rouge meeting in late 1939 was called by Jim Ford, whose specialty then was the archaeology of Mississippi and Louisiana. Jimmy Griffin had broader experience in Eastern archaeology in the Illinois and Ohio valleys, but he had recently dipped into a short study of southeast Missouri in the Lower Valley as well. Unfortunately there are no known notes or documents now available that can directly tell us exactly what went on at the crucial meeting. However, the facts are that in the Fall of 1939 Phil Phillips began to put together the Lower Valley Survey data which became the LMS site files that are now accessed via this website.

Now it might seem quite quaint to some current viewers of these site materials to know that in 1939 there was not yet a national format for site forms on a state by state basis. Different states did different things, but the WPA archaeology of the 1930s had provided, with government help, in a manner of numbering states, alphabetically (Missouri was number 23) followed by an abbreviation of county (PM was for Pemiscot County) and then the sites numerically as they were found; thus, the first site in Pemiscot County would be called "23-PM-1." All well and good, but all the states to be covered by the LMS fieldwork did not have such a system up and running that Phillips could directly use.

To conquer that problem Phillips decided not to use the "county" system and instead went to a "quadrangle" map method of site location. By 1939 the entire Lower Valley had been carefully mapped in a joint-project of the U.S. Geological Survey (which regularly published these maps for much, but not all, at that time, of the United States) and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose work in the Lower Valley went way back to the post-Civil war times. These 15-minute quad sheets were not small, but they did cover the region in a very manageable and ordered manner. On the other hand, the individual "county maps" for the six states (Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana) were of many different shapes and sizes; indeed not all the dozens of county maps were even in print at that time (1939).

Phillips would use a simple numerical and alphabetical system to identify each quad sheet, as in "10-P", with "1" for the Carson Lake site in Mississippi County, Arkansas (see Table 1, List of Sites, in Phillips, Ford, and Griffin 1951: 47). The reference just cited only covered the sites visited in that first major site survey project. But the facts are, as these files indicate, Phillips was much more inclusive in his "Lower Valley" coverage starting with Tier 1 in Missouri and Illinois north of the geophysical beginning of the physiographic feature known by most scholars (geographers, geologists, and archaeologists) as the "Lower Mississippi Valley."

It was Phillips too who did most of the pre-Survey locations of sites known from the literature. This was an enormous piece of work in and of itself, but typically Phillips did not mention this task that he performed on his own at the Harvard Peabody Museum; therefore the exact time frame of this work is not known to this author.

The actual field work results that are documented with the data recorded in this large file system is a lengthy story in and of itself. It began in 1940 with the field program recorded in the Phillips, Ford and Griffin volume cited above (1940-1946). The next LMS project was carried out by Phillips in the Yazoo Basin in 1949 (Phillips 1970: vii-viii), followed by major work at the Jaketown site also in the Yazoo Basin in 1951 (Ford, Phillips, and Haag 1955). At this same period Griffin instigated research at the northern end of the Lower Valley in Southeast Missouri with the work by this author and another U of Michigan graduate student, Edward Scully. We did fieldwork in the realm of surface collecting in the Southeast Missouri together in the summers of 1950 and 1951, followed in the summer of 1952 with more research in Southeast Missouri including individual excavations at the Crosno site (Williams, 1954) and at half a dozen other sites by Scully.

In 1958 Phillips would in essence retire from fieldwork in the Lower Valley, but would soon turn to a major synthesis of the entire Lower Valley, as defined herein, and published this major two-volume work in 1970. That huge synthesis made extensive use of these site files and the detailed information contained therein. I would then become Director of the LMS from 1958 until 1993, when I retired from Harvard. The LMS field work in this period (1958-1993) included the research activities of a large number of important participants; Jeffrey P. Brain, Ian W. Brown, John S. Belmont, Vin Steponaitis, Alan Toth, David J. Hally, and Tristram R. Kidder, not to forget a large number of undergraduate students as well. In 1993, I stepped down as Director of the Survey and turned that task over to Prof. Kidder. He has continued the LMS fieldwork with a number of projects in the past near-decade.

All of those mentioned above have contributed in one way or another to add to the archaeological resources stored in the site files available to all via this web site. We are delighted to share these data with all other scholars who have an interest and concern for the archaeology of this vast Lower Mississippi. All we ask is an appropriate citation of the source of the data when it is used by others.

In opening this information to a much larger audience we can only hope that this information, especially site locations, will be used in a careful and positive fashion. I know personally that in 1951, when the Phillips, Ford, and Griffin volume was first published by the Peabody Museum, there were other archaeologists at Harvard who were then publishing similar site survey data from the southwestern United States. And that particular volume did not publish the site locations. I would be less than forthcoming if I did not admit that I know for a fact that some "interested" folks did use the data in the LMS 1951 volume to carry out some illicit excavations at some of the sites, whose locations are detailed in these files. That has meant a loss or destruction of information for others to use. However, in looking to concerns of the greatest good for the greatest numbers of scholars in southeastern United States, we will take both the thanks and blame for these activities.

Stephen Williams
Peabody Professor of North American Archaeology and Ethnography, Emeritus
Harvard University
July 8, 2002

References Cited

Ford, James A., Philip Phillips, and William G. Haag
1955 The Jaketown Site in West-Central Mississippi. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, vol. 45, Pt. 1.

Phillips, Philip 1970 Archaeological Survey in the Lower Yazoo Basin, Mississippi, 1949-1955. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 60. Harvard University, Cambridge.

Phillips, Philip, James A. Ford, and James B. Griffin
1951 Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 25. Harvard University, Cambridge.

Williams, Stephen
1954 An Archaeological Study of the Mississippian Culture in Southeast Missouri. PhD dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Yale University. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

For a more complete bibliographic coverage of the LMS fieldwork and its publications, see the Archaeological and Historical Bibliography of the Lower Mississippi Valley, maintained and updated by T.R. Kidder at Tulane University.

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