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

Archaic Trophy Taking in the Eastern Woodlands


Department of Anthropology, University of Indianapolis

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The taking of human body parts as trophies is a practice documented in the American Midwest during the Middle and Late Archaic periods. It was particularly common around the Ohio and Green Rivers, and extended south into the Tennessee River valley. Trophy elements included scalps and heads, forelimbs, mandibles, tongues, and ears. Victims of trophy taking exhibit diagnostic patterns of traumata, generally manifest as cut and chop marks adjacent to where elements were removed. The current study sought to determine the extent to which Archaic trophy taking extended west along the Ohio River. Over one hundred adult and subadult skeletons from the Black Earth site in Southern Illinois were closely examined for evidence of trophy taking. All bones were studied and a 10X hand lens was used in instances where taphonomy obscured surface visibility. No evidence of trophy taking was found, though Black Earth is culturally similar to and contemporaneous with trophy sites in Indiana. The Black Earth finding contradicts evidence from the Ohio and Green Rivers, where trophy taking is found at numerous cemeteries of all sizes (i.e., Indian Knoll, Kentucky n= 800+ and Firehouse site, Indiana, n=5). The Black Earth results indicate that trophy taking, while widespread, was not ubiquitous. It does not sit directly on the Ohio River like its counterparts in Indiana; perhaps this explains why its people were not victimized by trophy taking. In sum, it is clear that trophy taking has a geo-cultural boundary that studies like the current one are helping to define.

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