The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Bioarchaeological investigations at Fernvale, a Middle Tennessee Archaic site


1Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Middle Tennessee State University, 2Department of Biology, Middle Tennessee State University

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The multicomponent Fernvale Site (40WM51), in Williamson County, Tennessee, yielded a small human skeletal sample of 32 individuals from an Archaic Period cemetery. A full bioarchaeological assessment of the remains was conducted according to standards for data collection set out by Buikstra and Ubelaker, supplemented by a narrative approach to recording paleopathological information. Our analysis identified three notable, yet contradictory, features of this sample: 1) extreme asymmetrical dental wear and robust cranial muscle markings, 2) strongly-developed lower extremities and degenerative joint disease of the spine, and 3) trophy-taking in two adult individuals. The great degree of dental wear and robust lower bodies are atypical of Archaic populations within the Mid-South, and suggest the Fernvale people may have engaged in a lifestyle or occupation not shared by contemporaneous regional populations. However, the practice of trophy-taking places the Fernvale people squarely within a cultural tradition found throughout the Mid-South during the Archaic period. We conclude that the Fernvale people were participating in cultural practices typical of a broader cultural tradition, while tailoring their lifestyle and economy to the narrower ecological niche in which they had settled, and that both of these decision-sets impacted their health and welfare as viewed from the perspective of the human skeleton. This dual-scale adaptation signals the diversity of Archaic period social systems, and echoes an emerging consensus among archaeologists regarding the complexity of Archaic societies.

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