Climate Change and Human History in the Mississippi River Valley

The Mississippi River floodplain is a highly active, constantly evolving landscape. Research on the relationships among Mississippi River landscape evolution, climate change, and human history has been a centerpiece of the Geoarchaeology  lab. Research has focused on the Tensas Basin of northeast Louisiana but has recently expanded to comparative work in the Yazoo Basin, the American Bottom, and the lower Illinois River valley. Using a variety of recovery methods (archaeological excavations, deep coring, and trenching) we explore the history of landscape evolution from the Pleistocene to the present with special emphasis on the period after 5000 cal B.P. Work in the Tensas and Yazoo basins examines basin-scale histories and is allowing us to investigate the timing, synchronicity, and effects of geographically large-scale climatically induced flooding and its cultural consequences.

As a consequence of a long-term and intensive research program we have revealed a complex landscape history in the Tensas Basin; our work allows us to identify previously unknown deeply buried Arkansas River fluvial systems that supported sustained and intensive human occupation, as well as local and regional flood events that directly tie into human settlement. We have identified episodes of climate-related landscape stability and instability and have coupled these to changes in long-term cultural behavior. A major finding in the Tensas Basin is the identification of major flood events, especially one at the end of the Archaic which is correlated with an episode of global climate change ca. 3000-2500 cal B.P. Work in the Yazoo and lower Illinois River valleys is investigating the spatial extent of this events or these events and will allow us to better understand the ecological and cultural consequences of mega-flooding at local, regional, and basin-wide scales. This work involves collaboration among scholars in the Geoarchaeology lab, Lori Roe at Tulane University, and Dr. Katherine A. Adelsberger of Knox College.


Kidder, Tristram R. 2006. Climate Change and the Archaic to Woodland Transition (3000-2600 cal B.P.) in the Mississippi River Basin. American Antiquity 71:195-231.

Arco, Lee J., Katherine Adelsberger, Ling-yu Hung, and Tristram R. Kidder. 2006. Alluvial Geoarchaeology of a Middle Archaic Mound Complex in the Lower Mississippi Valley, U.S.A. Geoarchaeology 21: 591-614.

Adelsberger, Katherine A., and Tristram R. Kidder 2007.  Climate Change, Landscape Evolution, and Human Settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 5500-2400 Cal B.P. In Reconstructing Human-Landscape Interactions, edited by L. Wilson, P. Dickinson and J. Jeandron, pp. 84-108. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Kidder, Tristram R., Katherine A. Adelsberger, Lee J. Arco, and Timothy M. Schilling. 2007. Basin-Scale Reconstruction of the Geological Context of Human Settlement: An Example from the Lower Mississippi Valley, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 27: 1255-1270.

Kidder, Tristram R., Lori M. Roe, and Timothy M. Schilling. 2010. Early Woodland Settlement and Mound Building in the Upper Tensas Basin, Northeast Louisiana. Southeastern Archaeology 26: 121-145.

Kidder, Tristram R. 2010. Trend, Tradition and Transition at the End of the Archaic. In Trend, Tradition, and Turmoil: What Happened to the Southeastern Archaic? edited by D. H. Thomas and M. Sanger, pp. 23-32. Anthropological Papers. American Museum of Natural History Vol. 89, pt. 2, New York.


Adelsberger, Katie A., and Tristram R. Kidder. 2002. Climate Change, Landscape Evolution, and Human Settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 5500-2400 Cal BP. Paper presented at DIG 2005, St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada

Arco, Lee J., Tristram R. Kidder, Katherine A. Adelsberger, Anthony L. Ortmann, and Timothy M. Schilling. 2008. Prehistoric Human-Landscape Interactions (ca. 6000-2500 Cal B.P.) in the Lower Mississippi Valley, U.S.A. Paper presented at the Conference on Landscape Evolution and Geoarchaeology, Porto Heli, Greece.

Kidder, Tristram R.:

2003            Climate Change and the Late Archaic to Early Woodland Transition in the Mississippi River Basin.   Keynote presentation at the 47th Annual Workshop on Illinois Archaeology, Illinois Archaeological Survey, Carbondale.

2004            Where Did Everyone Go?: Climate Change and the Late Archaic to Early Woodland Transition in the Mississippi River Basin. Illinois State Museum Seminar Series, Illinois State Museum, Springfield.

2004            Climate Change and the Late Archaic to Early Woodland Transition in the Mississippi River Basin. Paper presented at the 1st annual meeting of the Archaeological Sciences of the Americas Symposium, University of Arizona, Tucson.

2004            Climate Change, Landscape Evolution, and Human Settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 5500-2400 BP. Paper presented at the 61st annual meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, St. Louis.

2006            Climate Change, Flooding, and Long-term History in the Mississippi Valley. Paper presented at the symposium “Lessons from Deep History,” International Conference on Rivers and Civilization: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Major River Basins, La Cross, WI.

2008             The Archaeology of Climate Change. Paper presented at the Henan Provincial Geographic Research Institute, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China.

2008             6000 Years in the Mississippi Valley. Keynote presentation at the symposium “Changing Climates: Evidence of Long term Trends and their Social Consequences.” Center for Delta Studies Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

2008             Explaining the End of the Archaic: Elements of an Autocritique of the Climate Hypothesis. Paper presented at the 3rd Caldwell Conference, American Museum of Natural History, St. Catherines Island, GA.

2008              Climate Change and Cultural Response: A Mississippi Valley Perspective. Paper presented at the  symposium “Climate Crises in Human History,” University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.