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

The Quantification and Assessment of Mortuary Practices at Morton Shell Mound (16IB3)


Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, Mississippi State University

Thursday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

Morton Shell Mound is a Late Woodland Ossuary on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Excavated in 1968-1972 by Robert Neuman, the skeletal collection consists of approximately 24,900 commingled human bone fragments. The original osteological report did not include a site-wide distributional analysis, and the assessment of minimum number of individuals (MNI) represents a provenience specific summation resulting in an MNI of 275 individuals. In order to better assess the mortuary program and number of individuals present at Morton, we inventoried the collection using methods and technology unavailable to the original researchers. We give each fragment (or set of fragments) a unique ID in order to evaluate overall MNI, fracture patterns, and spatial distribution.

Because the collection is so fragmented, traditional methods of MNI assessment are not applicable. A landmark-based approach and a GIS-based method are used to assess MNI. The landmark method is applied to 17 major elements and the GIS method is applied to every placeable femur, humerus, and temporal fragment. The fracture characteristics of femoral and humeral fragments are assessed to distinguish between early stage postmortem (ESPM) and late stage postmortem (LSPM) fractures. After the fragments are inventoried, cross unit refits are identified in an effort to assess vertical and horizontal distributional patterns. These data are used to estimate the number of individuals present in the sample and aid in the interpretation of postmortem treatments of the Coles Creek burials at Morton Shell Mound as well as early Mississippian Period mortuary patterns across the Gulf Coast.

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