Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gender Differences/Roles: The Woodlands


Ambrose, Stanley H., Jane Buikstra, and Harold W. Krueger
2003 Status and gender differences in diet at Mound 72, Cahokia, revealed by isotopic analysis of bone. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22: 217-226

            Ambrose, Buikstra, and Krueger used stable isotope evidence gathered from the skeletal remains and tissues form Mound 72, located within the southern region of the Cahokia site in the Mississippian River valley. The authors pointed out that the Cahokia site consists of over 120 mounds, one of the mounds being the largest structure that existed in North America before the arrival of Columbus. These mounds contain vast amounts of burial features, which indicate the complexity and diversity of Cahokian society.
            Within Mound 72, the focus of their article, there were 272 individuals recovered in 25 burial features. The authors explain throughout the article how the status and gender differences are presented through burial treatments and pathologies, as well as stable isotope analysis and dental traits.
            Ambrose, Buikstra, and Krueger were able to analyze the preserved isotopic compositions of skeletal remains and tissues. They found differences between stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios related to the availability of dietary resources within the region surrounding Cahokia.  Through controlled experiments, the authors were able to find that bone apatite carbonate carbon is able to accurately estimate maize consumption, in addition to the carbon isotopic composition of the whole diet. In addition to using bone apatite carbonate, the authors used analysis of bone collagen nitrogen in determining levels of protein in the diets of prehistoric peoples. This in turn reflects the dimensions of status and gender differences of prehistoric peoples: whether or not they had more or less levels of maize and animal protein within their diets.
            From the experiments conducted in part by one of the authors, Ambrose, it was found that individuals are not in fact what they eat. Meaning, the findings supported models previously presented in which protein-to-protein routing takes place for collagen and linear mixing for bone apatite carbonate carbon. This provided additional understandings and reconstructions for dietary sources of prehistoric peoples. Furthermore, the authors were able to discern from dental traits that individuals within a mass grave were not from the same population as those who were high status. Those who were high status were located in burial sights along with numerous exotic goods.
            In addition, those who were found within the mass grave were mostly females, between the ages of 20 and 25. These individuals, the authors suggest, may have been taken from surrounding areas and were part of sacrificial rituals. Ambrose, Buikstra and Krueger further found that, based on stable isotope evidence, these females’ diets consisted of mainly maize and little protein rich animal foods. Those of high status had more protein within their diets.
            The importance of this article lies in the fact that skeletal remains can be compared with other skeletal remains to further understand implications of gender and status differences, as well as social organization and hierarchy, based on dietary information. Further importance comes from their findings on prehistoric peoples’ initial reliance on and social implications of maize. We can apply their findings to other regions and expand our understanding of the “pattern of dietary diversity”.

Norder, John, Jane Eva Baxter, A. Russell Nelson, and John M. O’Shea
2003 Stone Tombs and Ancient Ritual: Status Marking and Social Roles in the Early Late Woodland of Southeastern Michigan. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 28(2): 145-174

            Norder and others reexamined burial and funerary behaviors of Early Late Woodland sites throughout southeastern Michigan, the catalyst being the recovery of a female skeleton found inside a stone-lined burial chamber in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The article compares this stone-lined burial chamber with other burial sites, as well as using ethnohistoric data for Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures, in order to understand what sort of function it served. The stone-lined burial chamber recovered proved to be a fairly large anomaly within the region.
            Because this stone-lined burial chamber contained a female, the authors researched possible speculations within this region and culture of a possible specialized role that existed among prehistoric peoples, open to both men and women. Looking in depth at two other sites within the Huron River Valley, Brandon and Olsen, the authors were able to compare data. The article also pointed out other sites within the area, including Hindsdale Mounds 1 and 3, Bussinger, Bugai, 20LP98, Kiesling, and Kilgore sites.
            From comparing the Brandon and Olsen sites, along with the others, they found a couple intriguing aspects. The burial sites that had females had no pottery. Pottery was typically associated with women’s roles. Absence of pottery suggests that these women, who likely had leadership roles, were differentiated by typical women’s roles. In addition, the burial sites that had males were buried along with beaver incisors, except one burial site. The article suggests that the absence of pottery for females, and the presence of beaver incisors for males was a way to symbolically mark the roles they had. These roles were most likely leadership roles. According to the ethnohistoric data discussed within the article, men more commonly occupied leadership roles. Women who took on these roles were not seen as the same as men. In order to differentiate them upon death, the absence of pottery makes sense, along with increased artifact assemblage compositions.
            The article also points out, according to ethnohistoric data, that among the Algonquians there was a more flexible social organization and women were capable of holding men’s positions. Social organization was a lot stricter for Iroquoians. Thus, the article suggests that the region was predominantly Algonquian than Iroquoian, even though there are characteristics present of both cultural affiliations.
           Overall, the significance of this article is that there existed specialized roles that could be assumed by both sexes, either male or female within this region. This finding is important in that it furthers our understanding of social structure and social organizations of prehistoric peoples in this area. These findings can be expanded and applied to other areas in which roles may have been open to both sexes, such as religious and political roles.

1 comment:

  1. In one of the articles I read, the researchers looked at a site called Riviere aux Vase. The interesting thing about this site, was the fact that out of 19 skeletons showing signs of cranial injuries, 15 of which were women; this is nearly a 4:1 ratio. A ratio that high of women injured compared to men is almost unheard of; men usually were the ones who sustained the majority of the injuries, but not at this site.
    This article covers several possible situations which would explain why so many more women were injured than men. The first of these possibilities could be spousal abuse; men abusing their wives for any number of possible reasons. The second is the possibility of intrasex competition/woman-on-woman violence, due to polygamy, which was a very common occurrence in the Eastern Woodlands. A third, and very interesting possibility, is that of these women being female captives taken from another group to be integrated and used to bear children to keep the population growing; or these women could have been escapees of that fate. This is interesting because nearly all of the injured skulls were of reproductive age.
    Throughout this article it is made very clear, that a woman’s main purpose/role was to have children. This is evident in nearly every explanation for the violence. Whereas most male injuries occur as a result from hunting or warfare, all the possibilities for the females seem to strain from a direct effort of another person to inflict the injury on her, for a purpose related to reproduction.


    Wilkinson, Richard G., and Karen M. Van Wagenen
    1993 Violence Against Women: Prehistoric Skeletal Evidence from Michigan. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology. 18.2: 190-216.

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