Thursday, February 23, 2012

Human Remains: The Woodlands

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.

This article presents new information on the possibility of violence towards women during the Late Woodland (A.D. 1000-1300) at the site of Riviere aux Vase. From this site, they examined a total of 114 female skeletons and 98 males. They were looking for evidence of cranial injuries. This means they were looking for individuals who had cranial damage which showed evidence of remodeling. The reason for this was to eliminate the possibility of misinformation, such as counting post-mortem bone alterations into the equation, unfortunately this does exclude individuals who received cranial injuries which caused death. They found a total of 19 individuals, all were adults over the age of 16, displaying the correct characteristics for cranial injuries, this is 9% of the total observable cranial sample: 15 female and 4 male, this is nearly a 4:1 ratio.
In addition to grouping all individuals by sex, they also grouped them by estimated age, using the typical methods. The reason for grouping them in this way was to try to look for possible trends, especially in the individuals with cranial injuries. Unfortunately, due to such a low number of of individuals with cranial injuries, only suggestions could be proposed, rather than actually determining a statistical significance. The age ranges at death on the individuals with cranial injuries for men, appeared to be older men, mostly over the age of 50 or 60, with only one individual estimated at between 35-40 years old. The cranial injured females however, had many more younger individuals, with about four in their 20s, two in their 30s, four in their 40s, and five being 50 or older: all women appeared to have been in their reproductive years when the injuries occurred.
Based on information found from other sites that displayed similar injuries to women, the researchers determined three possibilities for the cause of these injuries. These causes being, interpersonal violence between men and women or women and women due to disagreements or other conflicts, warfare/raiding, and abduction/capture of women from other camps after a raiding occurred (these could be women who were either captured and tortured, only to be integrated into the group later on, which commonly occurs in other areas, or else they could have been women who escaped from being captured). They could not determine one single cause that could cover all of the injuries, mostly due to not having an adequate amount of information. The cause for these injuries could be one of these possibilities, or a combination of some or all of them. One observation that they could determine though, was the fact that regardless of how these individuals received their injuries, they were all buried in the same manner, and in most cases, along side non-injured individuals; this proved that the injured individuals were still integrated into the group when they died, and that however they received their injuries, that it didn’t change their status in their group, and were still treated as any other member.
The one conclusion that this article can determine is that reproductive aged women, were often in harms way, and could become victims of violence for multiple different reasons. While we can’t determine the specific cause for this site, the information discovered is still very useful in the broad scheme of things, and hopefully will be even more useful later on in future studies of prehistoric violence towards women. This article also provides multiple detailed examples and causes of violence towards women of other prehistoric Native American groups, which helps create a greater understanding overall, as well as for the specific site covered in this article.

Price, T. Douglas, and Maureen Kavanagh
1982 Bone Composition and the Reconstruction of Diet: Examples from the Midwestern United States. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology. 7.1: 61-79

This article presents new information regarding new ways to chemically analyze bones to determine which types of foods were most important to different groups of prehistoric people from sites across Wisconsin, dating from the Late Archaic to the Mississippian time. In this article, it explains how using carbon isotope analysis and trace element analysis can determine differences in diets. Both of these methods may still be in the developmental stage, but from the initial research presented in this article, we can tell that once these methods become more refined, they will be very helpful for future analysis of the diets of prehistoric people, and determining past subsistence practices.
The carbon isotope analysis of the bones is used to determine the importance of certain plants and marine organisms in prehistoric diets. This is done by measuring different levels of carbon isotopes found in the bone, and correlating them with different plants and animals that have matching or similar levels of the specific isotopes.
The trace element analysis measures the levels of specific elements found in the bone, the most helpful of these elements found for determining diet were strontium and calcium, and their relation to each other, and how the levels of each element change, based on the type of diet consumed. For example, carnivores display a very low strontium level, while herbivores will display a very high strontium level, and omnivores will have have concentrations somewhere in the middle of those of the carnivores and herbivores.
Both of these types of analyses have been applied to prehistoric sites throughout Wisconsin. The article goes into detail about the specific findings, but a few of the conclusions determined I will lay out below.

Through a carbon isotope analysis of multiple sites within the Hopewell interaction sphere, it was determined that maize was not a significant component of Hopewell subsistence. In a trace element analysis of two different Woodland sites in Illinois, they found surprising information regarding maize’s importance, which contradicts the results of a past study. Through a different trace elements analysis done on Wisconsin burials, at a site called Aztalan, both human and animal bones were analyzed, it was found that the humans there had similar strontium levels as the deer which were analyzed, meaning that these people must have relied heavily on plant foods.
While all of this research is still new and in it’s beginning stages, it provides us with a new way to conduct research on the dietary habits of prehistoric peoples, through chemically analyzing bones. Through more research and study, more concise conclusions about past human subsistence will be able to be determined in the future, and this ground breaking study will be the first stepping stone towards that future.


  1. One of my articles I found relates directly to your second annotated bibliography, the article by T. Douglas Price and Maureen Kavanagh. Within my article, published a lot more recently, by Ambrose, Buikstra, and Krueger, also used isotopic analysis of bone. Their analysis of bone showed dietary information about prehistoric peoples, as well as indicating status and gender differences that may very well have existed between and among prehistoric peoples around the Cahokia region. They focused on Mound 72 of Cahokia, where there were 272 human burials. The methods they used included analysis of the preserved isotopic compositions of the skeletal remains, as well as dental traits, artifact assemblages and burial positioning. They found differences in stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios related to the availability of dietary resources within the region surrounding Cahokia. They found that low-status individuals in fact had higher levels of maize and lower levels of protein. On the other hand, they found that high-status individuals had lower levels of maize and higher levels of protein within their diets. Therefore, it makes me wonder what this might indicate about the results of Price and Kavanagh's article- that maize was not seen as a significant subsistence resource for the people within that region. Maybe for prehistoric peoples in those Hopewell regions had varying symbolism for maize; maybe maize was not seen as a sort of "peasant food", as it appeared to have been for individuals buried in Mound 72. This seems very interesting and I would need to do more research on this topic. However, as is seen within the article by Ambrose Buikstra, and Krueger, isotopic analysis has been used in order to determine and reconstruct the diets of prehistoric peoples, which then helped reconstruct possible status and gender differences. Thus, isotopic analysis does indeed have the potential to open up new doors within archaeology.

    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

  2. The Wilkinson article seems very interesting. It reminds me of an article by George Milner about intertribal warfare, but the idea of extreme conflict within the tribe causing the signs of mass violence is an interesting view. It would certainly make sense with the practice of integration of women captured from raids though. I am a little curious as to whether or not these violent deaths also had evidence of mutilation? If they did, it might be more indicative of outside tribes coming in and raiding/killing the people, and if not, then violence within the tribe does make a lot more sense. The idea of mass murders within a village is certainly an interesting one.
    Milner, George R.
    Warfare in Prehistoric and Early Historic Eastern North America
    Journal of Archaeological Research, Vol. 7, No. 2 (June 1999), pp. 105-151