The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Assessing the Life History of Potential Trophy Heads in the Middle Woodland Period: Isotopic Analysis of Human Remains from the Elizabeth Site (11PK512) in the Lower Illinois River Valley


1School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, 2Geological Sciences, University of Florida, 3Anthropology, Georgia State University

March 27, 2015 11:45, Grand Ballroom C Add to calendar

A wealth of research exists on the Lower Illinois River Valley (LIRV) of the American Midwest detailing human occupation spanning from the Archaic through the Mississippian periods (6000 B.C.- A.D. 1300). However, evidence points to a period of human absence between c.a. 200-50 B.C., after which clear shifts in material culture and burial mound construction suggest recolonization by new populations. During this reoccupation, six skulls were interred in an invasive slot trench in Mound 3 of the Elizabeth Site, an anomalous act of unknown circumstances. This study employs multi-isotopic analyses to estimate residential origins and mobility within the LIRV, in particular to test competing hypotheses that these skulls represent captured members of a geographically non-local group, or local individuals subjected to atypical mortuary treatment. This study therefore aims to situate this unique occurrence within the broader context of LIRV cultural identities.

This study presents results of strontium and oxygen isotopic analyses of bone and tooth enamel carbonate from these skulls (N=6) and from individuals interred in traditional burials (N=9), all from Mound 3. These paired tissue samples respectively preserve isotopic values from local geology and water in early life and late life, permitting intra-individual comparisons and elucidating changes in residence during an individual’s lifetime. Preliminary results of both 87Sr/86Sr and δ18O data indicate both inter- and intra-individual variation, suggesting changes in immigration patterns and further clarifying the demographic variation at this site during a period of heightened mobility and cultural change.

This research was supported by a Grant-In-Aid of Research (Grant ID #492381) from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.