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

The use of the body in the creation of collective identity: A bioarchaeological examination of Wisconsin Effigy Mound mortuary ritual


1Anthropology, Michigan State University, 2Radiology, Division of Anatomy, Michigan State University

Saturday 11:30-11:45, Ballroom B Add to calendar

Bioarchaeology has long emphasized contextualizing human skeletal remains within mortuary and social systems, yet many studies continue to treat remains solely as biological entities. Although acknowledging cultural context, skeletal biology often takes primacy while context is relegated to an explanatory device for observed regularities and/or differences in skeletal features.

This study emphasizes the body, particularly secondary bundle reburial of skeletal remains, as a material construct used in ritual to create collective identity and social cohesion within Effigy Mound communities. For this study, a conceptual framework is developed using Eastern Woodland prehistoric mound studies and mortuary theory to explain the patterning of burial treatment afforded individuals interred within mounds belonging to the Wisconsin Effigy Mound Tradition.

Results indicate that internments within geometric mound forms are significantly different than those within effigy mounds along the lines of postmortem treatment and minimum number of individuals (MNI) interred within mounds. Specifically, secondary burial treatment is the most common form of burial disposition found within geometric mounds while effigy mounds most commonly contain primary burials. An analysis of MNI for each mound type reveals that geometric mound forms consistently contain significantly more individuals than effigy mound forms. However, an examination of age and sex distributions by mound form show no significant differences between mound forms. This study serves as a cautionary tale for bioarchaeologists to consider moving beyond evaluations of sex and age and instead focus on how bodies are interred within the mortuary domain and what that may mean within the broader social structure.

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