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

Life and death in 19th century Peoria, Illinois: Taking a biocultural approach towards understanding the past


1Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago, 2Midwest Archaeological Research Services

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The excavation of a 19th century city cemetery in Peoria, Illinois provides an opportunity to understand aspects of life and death in complex socio-economic contexts. Using census and mortality records, along with other historical documents, this project seeks to explore whether the 86 individuals excavated from the Peoria Public Library Cemetery (ca. 1839-1886) reflect the demography and morbidity recorded in 19th century documents. Results of the skeletal analysis indicate that juveniles between the ages of 0-2.9 years old constitute the highest proportion of the population (n=32, 37%), while fetal and neonatal skeletons contribute the next highest percentage (n= 12, 14%). Hence, of the cemetery sample excavated, 51% of the individuals recovered were below the age of 3 years old. The high percentage of individuals displaying periosteal reaction (n>30), enamel hypoplasia (n>40), and pathological conditions associated with physical labor (os acromiale and spondylolysis), suggest that in spite of the economic prosperity of the city, a substantial segment of the population lived arduous lives. While these findings are reflected in the census and mortality records, combining skeletal analyses with historical documents provides a more nuanced snapshot of life in the past.

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