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

A biocultural approach to warfare and violence during the late prehistoric period in the Middle Cumberland Region of Tennessee


Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky

Thursday Morning, 301E Add to calendar

A biocultural approach was utilized to address warfare and violence among late prehistoric communities in the Middle Cumberland Region (MCR) of Tennessee. Bioarchaeological evidence of trauma was placed within the local environmental and social context of the region using mortuary analysis as well as other archaeological and physiographic evidence.

A total of 870 individuals from 13 Mississippian sites in the Nashville basin were analyzed for evidence of warfare-related violence, including cutmarks associated with scalping, projectile point injuries, evidence of decapitation or dismemberment and cranial blunt force trauma. Information on mortuary practices such as burial location, body position, and grave goods was also collected. Evidence of violent trauma was identified in approximately 5.4% of individuals from the MCR sample. There were significantly more male victims than female, with 3.5% of females and 11.2% of males showing evidence of interpersonal violence. The most common injury noted in the MCR sample was cranial blunt force trauma with 53% of victims having at least one healed cranial depression fracture. The location of these wounds on the skull differed significantly between males and females. Analysis of mortuary context did not reveal any significant differences between victims and nonvictims. The lower rate of warfare-related trauma in the MCR as a whole compared to other regions, as well as the relatively high proportion of healed cranial blunt force trauma, may be due to local adaptations to the unique local social and natural landscape in the MCR.

Supported by NSF grant to DW Steadman and CC Cobb (BCS-0613173).

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