Thursday, February 23, 2012

Burials: The Woodlands

Christopher T. Hays
 2010 Adena Mortuary Patters in Central Ohio. Southeastern Archaeology. 29:106-120

          This article's whole purpose is to examine how the Adena mortuary program was practiced in the Upper Scioto Valley in central Ohio. Why is this important? Well, in contrast to the Upper Scioto Valley, the rituals in the Columbus area were highly variable in their treatment and placement of the bodies and artifacts. The point of the paper is to find out why. Hays defines Adena broadly as a generalized mortuary program that was centered in the Ohio Valley during the Early and Middle Woodland period. He considers Adena  to be a large number of interacting societies that drew upon a common repertoire of mortuary practices, symbols, and ideas. He does not belief that a specific region practiced an ideal set of these rituals that other regions copied or changed, but that it instead is simply a general set of beliefs, practices, and symbols. He suggest that Adena has no artifact types or mortuary patterns that are unique or always present at burials.
                Ritual is one of the more conservative aspects of culture since its message is usually very general and adaptable to a great variety of specific events and social circumstances. Mortuary ritual is designed precisely to transform death, which is often an irregular capricious even that threatens the stability of the community, into a controlled and standardized event that affirms the stability of the community and the social order. Ritual derives much of its power and efficacy from the stability in its form. The unchanging and repetitive quality of ritual makes its message seem beyond discussion, beyond question, and incontrovertible. Yet, rituals are variable. Why? One reason for this is that in many small scale traditional societies rituals and beliefs are usually controlled by a few leaders. These leaders will maintain the broad structure of the rites taught to them, but add variations and innovations to them. A second reason is that rituals and beliefs inevitably change with the passage of time. Ritual is inclined toward both stability and variability by the very constitution of its form.
                The Alum Lake area had five small mounds and two small residential sites. white the use of the ritual space varied a bit, the contents of the mounds were very consistent in many regards. Four of the five mounds contained post molds in the submound floor. Two of the mounds had post molds that outline circular to ovoid structures, whereas the post molds in other mounds were more scattered and appear to outline only small windbreaks or scaffolding. The base of all five mounds were ovoid to rectangular pit features that probably were used in mortuary processing. The pits were empty or held very few artifacts and fragments of human bone. The mounds also contained lots of burnt earth and charcoal.
                The mounds held no formal burials. The human remains consisted of cremated bone that was scattered throughout the mound with the occasional fragment. The flesh had completely rotted off the corpse before the bones were cremated. Artifacts found in the mounds, were scattered. They included chipped stone tools, debitage, ceramics, and a few ceremonial items. The mound sites were used only a single time for this ritual.
                The mortuary patterns in the four Columbus sites are rather different from those in the Alum Lake area.  These four mounds, unlike the Alum mounds, are very diverse. However, there are a few common elements. Three of the mounds were medium to large accretional mounds that were built in several different stages. These same mounds were used primarily as final burial grounds and cemeteries rather than as mortuary processing sites. The rituals were conducted in single cycle. This process was repeated up to six times at these sides, with each adding a new level to the mound. In all four, the corpses were extended and most likely fully fleshed when they were placed there. However, cremations, flexed burials, and bundle burials. All four sites contained points, ceramics, tubular pipes, and gorgets. Three contained stone hemisphere. That is  the end of their shared patterns. While one mound had 81 sherds, another only had only five. In the same mound that had five sherds, the artifacts were complete and either found in a feature or with a burial. In a differed mound, all the artifacts were broken and in the mound fill. In one mound there was sixteen burials, with all but one located in two large and shallow pits below the mound floor. The last was at the top. At another mound, this pattern was reversed. This mound had thirty leaf-shape blades, and the previous had none. Another mound had eight log tombs, but the others did not.
                Both the Alum and Columbus sites had few common factors, such as similar artifacts, a complete separation of the mortuary and living sites, and every mound had at least some type of ceremonial item. The only item found at all of these sites was the gorget. However, the type varied. Why does any of this even matter? Well, this all suggests that the people living in these two areas of the valley had some basic set of practices and beliefs that they both shared. Despite this, the areas developed their own very distinct mortuary ritual patterns.

James A. Tuck
1978 Regional Cultural Development, 3000 to 300 B.C. Handbook of North American Indians. 15:28-43

            While the article discussed a variety of things other than that which pertains to burials, it does put forth a nice supply of information on them as well. The main focus of the paper though, is how whole cultural traditions does not mean considering only one or two aspects of a given technology, or for that matter even an entire technology. Rather it means combining the study of technology with what can be inferred about subsistence and settlement patters, art, aesthetics, religion, and whatever other cultural data have been recovered by archaeologists. This, in and of itself is important to keep in one's head. The article also elaborates in detail about all of the aforementioned parts of cultural traditions. Why is this important? The answer is, to understand a culture, you must understand more than just their projectile points. 
                In the Mixed Prairie-Hardwood  there were burials from the Illinois-Missouri area that produced bannerstones or atlalt weights. The culture that this was found in was the Riverton culture, which held a mixture of Midwestern and Southern tradition with litihic tradition from the east. In the Great Lakes Forest Archaic there is evidence of the use of red ocher in ceremonial contexts, or, perhaps even as body paint.  In the Maritime Area, the culture was more oriented toward the sea, as the name would suggest. There were magical or decorative objects such as concretions and quartz pebbles, red ocher, and the general pattern of burial ceremonialism present. There was the lavish use of red ocher in both the utilitarian and esoteric grave offerings, which were often in great quantities. Possibly, orientation toward the east might be an early manifestation of the "basic core religiosity" found throughout the Northeast. However, there is no relationship between the Maritime Archaic people and the later Algonquians.
                In the Susquehanna tradition sites, there is use of red and yellow ocher in the burial rituals which would hint at the use of it in daily life. Burials pertaining to one culture in the Late Archaic-Early Woodland period are red-ocher-covered burials and have "sand-sole" shell gorget, copper adzes, round and rectangular shell gorgets, discoidal shell beads, galena nodules, and copper awls showing up as grave goods. The whole reason that grave goods are an important thing to note, is the fact that sometimes, that's all there is to go off of. In one of the location previously mentioned, the only thing that was available were cemeteries, otherwise there was no other evidence of day-to-day living in that particular area.  Artifact complexes associated with burials from sites in the Upper Great Lakes have thin bifacial blades, knives, end scrapers and stemmed points, conoidal-based ceramic vessels and cigar-shaped smoking pipes; bone awls, at least one bone harpoon, antler flakers; a fish net and net sinkers, occasional copper implements, gorgets, "birdstones," and other exotic objects.
                 It is easy to see that there was a special treatment of the dead, as the article also states. The Hopewell and Adena 'cultures' both have distinctive traits but have a similar set of underlying beliefs.  These two cultures tie in to the Northeastern burial cult. Extended burials from Allumette and Morrison's islands in easter Ontario show use of red ocher, often to sprinkle over the burials, as well as various grave goods that were mostly utilitarian in nature. These included side-notched porjectile points, scrapers, gouges, adzes, whetstones, two ground slate points, copper points, bone harpoons, needles, and awls. There were also thousands of copper beads and several bracelets that show evidence for personal adornment. While not all the objects are entirely mortuary offerings, the objects and the use of red ocher foretell of the expression of this ceremonialism.
                In the Maritime Archaic tradition, there were flexed or burial bundles which were often located on high, east-facing hills or bluffs, lavishly covered with red ocher and containing tools, weapons, ornaments, charms, amulets, and medicine bundles. The graves of newborn infants were richly accoutered, which suggests that the items found in burials are no all personal belongings. Burials also contained ground slate spears and bayonets that were exclusively grave goods. Most of the objects are often found broken, mostly on purpose. Why? Probably to release the spirit of the artifact.
                The article concludes all of this the best. Consistently recurring and ever-elaborating elements of mortuary ritualism-red-ocher-covered burials accompanied by numerous artifacts, often ritually killed to ensure the well-being of the deceased in the after-life demonstrate perhaps the only real unifying factor among the otherwise varied cultural manifestations of the Northeast.


  1. I see connections between your article about regional cultural development and my article about the faunal remains from the Cater Creek site. This site is of interest because it is a "pioneer" site; that is, it was established by a group that moved out of a riverine environment into an upland location. My article examines the evidence from Carter Creek in an effort to put to rest two different hypotheses. The first, proposed by Green, predicts that early Late Woodland groups who moved from riverine areas into uplands would continue to focus on riverine resources. The other hypothesis, proposed by Styles, claims that the geography around the settlement would dictate which fauna were utilized. In other words, there is a debate over whether early "pioneer" groups would rely more on tradition or on their new habitat for subsistence. In the end, the author concluded that both theories are correct; the people from Carter Creek did rely heavily on aquatic resources, but they were local resources that would not have been found in their original riverine location.

    It seems that burials and ceremonial complexes follow these two theories as well. Groups such as the Adena and Hopewell have similar beliefs but also have distinctive traits. These differential traits, such as differences in burial goods, could be a product of the environment in which the people are living. For instance, the groups from Allumette and Morrison's islands in eastern Ontario use red ocher in their burials but other groups do not. This is most likely because other groups did not have access to red ocher, not because there was some fundamental religious difference related to the use of red ocher. I suspect that quite a few of the differences we see in religious artifacts/ceremonial items stems from differences in regional location.

    Reference Cited:
    Holt, Julie Zimmermann.
    2005 Animal Remains from the Carter Creek Site: Late Woodland Adaptive Strategies in the Upland Frontier of West Central Illinois. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 30: 37-65.

  2. In my study of non-projectile lithics in the Woodlands, one of the articles I read was about ceremonial picks discovered at burial sites (Halsey 1984). While the exact purpose (i.e., if the picks were actually ceremonial) was unclear, the article did postulate that the picks were tools of a warrior, and were therefore buried with the warrior when he died. It’s interesting to consider the exact implications of such tools found at burial sites, especially considering that, according to your second article, the brunt of the discovered artifacts are tools, which were broken to release the spirit of the artifact. It would be interesting to consider such types of objects found as potentially being related to the deceased’s specialty, such as the pick with the warrior, rather than being considered simply ceremonial, since they seem to carry such significance for being rather straight-forward tools.
    Halsey, John R.

    1984 The Ceremonial Pick: A Consideration of Its Place in Eastern Woodlands Prehistory. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 9(1):43-62.