Long before the advent of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, early Mississippian Mound cultures in America’s southern Appalachian Mountains shared artistic trends and technologies across regional networks that functioned in similar ways as modern social media, according to a study.
The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that strong social connections between common people have always played an important role in helping societies guard themselves against the vagaries of unpredictable leaders and ruling classes.
"Just as we have our own networks of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, societies that existed in North America between 1,200 and 350 years ago had their own information sharing networks," said Jacob Lulewicz, lecturer at the Washington University in the US.
"Our study found a way to reconstruct these indigenous communication networks," he said in a statement.
"Our analysis shows how these networks laid the groundwork for Native American political systems that began developing as far back as 600 AD," Lulewicz said.
The study utilises sophisticated social network analysis to map social and political connections that helped unite friends and families in dozens of Native American villages well before the arrival of European explorers.
The findings are based on a messaging archive that is preserved not in bytes, but in bits of pottery sherds unearthed over many years in archaeology digs at dozens of Mississippian culture sites scattered across southern Appalachia.
Focusing on subtle evolving changes in the technologies used to temper and strengthen pottery and the cultural symbols used to decorate them, the study provides a detailed chronological map of how new pottery techniques signified connections between these communities.
The ceramics database includes 276,626 sherds from 43 sites across eastern Tennessee, and 88,705 sherds from 41 sites across northern Georgia, researchers said.
The collection represents pottery created between 800 and 1650 AD, a period that saw the gradual emergence and later decline of powerful chiefdoms that controlled wide networks of villages in the region, they said.
The study focuses on villages clustered around the site of Etowah in Bartow County, Georgia, an important Mississippian community that included several low earthen mounds with large ceremonial buildings.
It served as the regional seat of social, political, economic and religious power across the region—influence that reached its peak between 1050 to 1325 A.D according to the study.
The findings suggest that the ruling elites drew their power from social networks created by the masses.
The emergence of powerful Native American chiefdoms and the centralised leadership, elaborate religious movements and institutionalised inequality that came with them, he said, were built upon foundations created by the wider, pre-existing social networks of common people.
Such systems proved to be more stable and durable than any interactions dictated by elite chiefs, researchers said. — PTI