Year of Publication


Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Richard Jefferies


In this dissertation, I examine trajectories of cultural evolution among complexhunter-gatherers and middle range societies. Broadly, I consider the theoretical issuesrelated to these two areas of study and how we should conceptualize the study of socioculturalevolution in societies organized at this scale. I apply these ideas to the study ofthe prehistoric hunter-gatherers who occupied Sapelo Island, Georgia, U. S. A.Specifically, I examine the Archaic period (4200 – 3000 B. P.) occupation of the SapeloShell Ring complex, located on the western side of the island. In particular, I study issuesof sedentism, settlement aggregation, mound construction, and the emergence of socialinequality as they relate to shell rings in the southeastern United States, as well as otherareas of the world. One of the central problems for studying these sites is whether shellrings form by gradual accumulation or by intentional construction and the concomitantsocial formations associated with these two different behaviors. Using geophysicalsurvey, artifact distributions, and radiocarbon dating, I examine the use and nature ofspace at the site as well as site formation processes. I present the results of both thegrowth band analysis on clams and the isotopic analysis on clams and oysters from thesite in order to address season of occupation. In addition to this new data, a reanalysis ofprevious excavations is presented. Combined, these data lend important insights intodifferent dimensions of socio-political complexity. Specifically, these data suggest thatthe Sapelo Shell Ring complex population was relatively large for its time. It addition, itseems that at least some portion of the population occupied the site year-round. Despiteit large population size and reduced mobility the occupants of the site maintained at leastsome degree of egalitarian social relations.