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

Reconciling old maps with their curated collections: The implementation of technology to the riddle of curated commingled remains


Anthropology, University of Alabama

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This project seeks to re-examine a curated collection of commingled human remains and present a methodological technique in the application of contemporary technology to collections based research. In the Tennessee Valley, the Middle Woodland Period (A.D. 1 – 500) Copena mortuary complex is characterized by localized groups utilizing subterranean geologic formations and mound sites as interment locations. The depositional activities at many cave sites, which often consisted of simply inserting remains into the cave via an accessible opening, create a multilayered, commingled bone scatter. This research examined a single layer subsample from Lewis Jones Cave (1SC42), a Copena cave mortuary site in northern Alabama, and attempted to delineate both a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) for the area and a cluster of associated elements in an effort to reconstruct individuals. We applied GIS and Adobe Photoshop to plan-view maps from the initial 1977 excavation to illuminate possible features in the two dimensional renderings that might assist our understanding of the collection. Reconstruction was aided by first isolating potential bone clusters on the digitized map and then applying collected metric, nonmetric, and patterned taphonomic data to delineate individuals based on these original clusters. The subsample rendered a conservative MNI of five by utilizing repetition of the left femora, while individual reconstruction was possible for two individuals. These preliminary observations will provide insight for further research of the Lewis Jones Cave site. Additionally, we believe the implementation of digitized maps will add considerable substance and contextual information to future collections based research.

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