The Early Materialization of Democratic Institutions among the Ancestral Muskogean of the American Southeast

Victor D. Thompson, Jacob Holland-Lulewicz, Rae Lynn A. Butler, Turner W. Hunt, Lee Anne Wendt, James Wettstaed, Mark Williams, Richard Jefferies, Suzanne K. Fish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Democratic cooperation is a particularly complex type of arrangement that requires attendant institutions to ensure that the problems inherent in collective action do not subvert the public good. It is perhaps due to this complexity that historians, political scientists, and others generally associate the birth of democracy with the emergence of so-called states and center it geographically in the West, where it then diffused to the rest of the world. We argue that the archaeological record of the American Southeast provides a case to examine the emergence of democratic institutions and to highlight the distinctive ways in which such long-lived institutions were - and continue to be - expressed by Native Americans. Our research at the Cold Springs site in northern Georgia, USA, provides important insight into the earliest documented council houses in the American Southeast. We present new radiocarbon dating of these structures along with dates for the associated early platform mounds that place their use as early as cal AD 500. This new dating makes the institution of the Muskogean council, whose active participants have always included both men and women, at least 1,500 years old, and therefore one of the most enduring and inclusive democratic institutions in world history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-723
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 29 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for American Archaeology.


  • American Southeast
  • Native Americans
  • Woodland period
  • collective action
  • cooperation
  • democratic institutions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


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