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Interactions with the incorporeal in the Mississippian and ancestral Puebloan worlds

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This research explores how people's relationships with the spirits of the dead are embedded in political histories. It addresses the ways in which certain spirits were integral "inhabitants" of two

This research explores how people's relationships with the spirits of the dead are embedded in political histories. It addresses the ways in which certain spirits were integral "inhabitants" of two social environments with disparate political traditions. Using the prehistoric mortuary record, I investigate the spirits and their involvement in socio-political affairs in the Prehispanic American Southeast and Southwest. Foremost, I construct a framework to characterize particular social identities for the spirits. Ancestors are select, potent beings who are capable of wielding considerable agency. Ancestral spirits are generic beings who are infrequently active among the living and who can exercise agency only in specific contexts. Anonymous groups of spirits are collectives who exercise little to no agency. I then examine the performance of mortuary ritual to recognize these social identities in the archaeological record. Multivariate analyses evaluate how particular ritual actions memorialized the dead. They concentrate on treatment of the body, construction of burial features, inclusion of material accompaniments, and the spaces of ritual action. Each analysis characterizes the social memories that ritual acts shaped for the spirits. When possible, I supplement analysis of archaeological data with ethnohistoric and ethnographic information. Finally, I compile the memories to describe the social identities for the spirits of the dead. In this study, I examine the identities surrounding the spirits in both a Mississippian period settlement on the Georgia coast and in several Protohistoric era Zuni towns in the northern Southwest. Results indicate that ancestors were powerful members of political factions in coastal Mississippian communities. In contrast, ancestral spirits and collectives of long-dead were custodians of group histories in Zuni communities. I contend that these different spirits were rooted in political traditions of competition. Mississippian ancestors were influential agents on cultural landscapes filled with contestation over social power. Puebloan ancestral spirits were keepers of histories on landscapes where power relations were masked, and where new kinds of communities were coalescing. This study demonstrates that the spirits of the dead are important to anthropological understandings of socio-political trajectories. The spirits are at the heart of the ways in which history influences and determines politics.

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Date Created
  • 2014

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The social costs of war: investigating the relationship between warfare and intragroup violence during the Mississippian period of the Central Illinois Valley

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War exacts a great social cost, not only upon its direct participants, but also upon the lives of the friends, family, and community of those who experience it. This

War exacts a great social cost, not only upon its direct participants, but also upon the lives of the friends, family, and community of those who experience it. This cost is particularly evident in the increased frequencies of aggressive behaviors, including homicide, assault, and domestic violence, enacted by Western military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Similarly, among contemporary non-Westernized peoples, a cross-cultural conducted by Ember and Ember (1994) found a relationship between war and various forms of intragroup violence, including domestic violence, assaults, homicides, and violent sports. It is unknown, however, if this positive association between warfare and intragroup violence extends longitudinally for prehistoric populations uninfluenced by modern states.

To test Ember and Ember’s (1994) results in an archaeological culture, this study examines whether or not an association between war and intragroup violence was present during the Mississippian Period (ca. AD 1000-1450) of the Central Illinois Valley (CIV). The Mississippian Period of the CIV represents an ideal context for examining war and violence questions, as considerable evidence of war and violence has been amassed from archaeological and bioarchaeological analyses. High rates of skeletal trauma, fortification construction, and the placement of habitations sites in defendable areas indicate war was of particular concern during this period. Yet, little is known regarding the diachronic and synchronic variation in violence in this region.

In this research, skeletal remains representing 776 individuals from five CIV sites (Dickson Mounds, Larson, Berry, Crable, and Emmons) were analyzed for violence-related skeletal trauma, biodistance, and mortuary data. From the aggregation of these data, two models of intergroup violence and two models of intragroup violence were explored. The intergroup models examined were: 1) warfare victims from the local community and 2) warfare captives. The intragroup models assessed include: 1) domestic violence and 2) male-male fights. Results support the hypothesis that as intergroup violence increased during the Mississippian Period in the CIV, intragroup violence increased concomitantly. While warfare and intragroup violence occurred in low frequencies early in the Mississippian Period, after AD 1200, both intragroup and intergroup violence were likely endemic.

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Date Created
  • 2015