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Exploring the Vacant Quarter

Vacant Quarter Map
Vacant Quarter Map

With support from the National Science Foundation, we are collaborating with the Chickasaw Nation, the University of Mississippi, and the University of South Dakota in a project designed to explore the reasons underlying a widespread human abandonment of the midcontinental United States ca. AD 1450. This phenomenon, popularly referred as the Vacant Quarter, involved the emigration of Native American communities from a region totaling about 50,000 square miles. Our work will undertake a comparative study of two localities in the Vacant Quarter, in central Mississippi and northern Mississippi, to determine with more precision when they were vacated, why they were vacated, and what similarities and differences there were in these two histories. Climatic research indicates that a series of major, mulit-decadal droughts in the 1300s and 1400s may have been a major factor in the mass abandonment, but local histories of conflict and social interaction were likely important in determining how and when people migrated. This project will run from 2019 to 2022 (funding from NSF grant BCS 1916596, “Collaborative Research: Long-Term Human Responses to Ecological Instability”)