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Animate Earth, Settler Ruins: Mound Landscapes and Decolonial Futures in the Native South

By Leigh Bloch

Cite As:
Bloch, Leigh. 2020. “Animate Earth, Settler Ruins: Mound Landscapes and Decolonial Futures in the Native South.” Cultural Anthropology 35, no. 4: 516–545.


This article theorizes the uneven entanglements between settler processes of ruination, a dynamic structured by regimes of history/prehistory, life/death, and life/nonlife, and “mound power,” or the force relations exercised by Indigenous landscapes as animate beings in their own right. I draw on research with members of a community in the U.S. South who claim Muskogee ancestry, visiting ancestral mound or earthwork and shellwork sites built over the past six thousand years. Wounded by ongoing colonial violence, these landscapes call out to descendants, drawing them into ancestral movements and relations of care. In these moments, ancestral sites refuse to be fixed within terminal chronological periods removed from a settled present, enrolling descendants into Indigenous space-times that dramatically exceed colonial timescales and temporalities. Drawing on this deep historical perspective, this article articulates a modest hope for the ways Indigenous landscapes, as agentive beings, animate decolonial possibilities for life in the ruins of colonial empires.


temporality; landscape; southeastern United States; Native American and Indigenous peoples; archaeological ethnography; animacy; care; settler colonialism; the Anthropocene