Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Rodning, Christopher B., and Moore, David G.
2004 South Appalachian Mississippian and Protohistoric Mortuary Practices in Southwestern North Carolina. Southeastern Archaeology. 23: 153-165
The focus of this article, written by Rodning and Moore, is to compare and contrast the mortuary patterns at Warren Wilson, Garden Creek, and Coweeta Creek in North Carolina. It is commonly thought that grave goods and spatial patterning in the placement of burials are clues about the organization and status distinctions within past societies. Mississippian societies of the Appalachian Summit are thought to have been less centralized, with less pronounced distinctions in status and power, than Mississippian societies in other areas of the southeastern United States. The frequency of mounds and the quantity and diversity of grave goods in the Mississippian burials in southwestern North Carolina is less than that of major Mississippian settlements elsewhere in the Southeast.
Individuals in burial populations from Warren Wilson, Garden Creek, and Coweeta Creek have been grouped into five age groups: elders (35 years and older), mature adults (25-34 years), young adults (16-24 years), adolescents (8-15 years), and children (7 years and younger). These age groups are based solely on the authors' discretion. Grave goods found here are made of materials - especially marine shell - whose sources are located far from the North Carolina mountains. For this, along with the fact that it would take at least some amount to craft and carve the shell pendants and gorgets and make shell beads, that the presence of grave goods is in some way related to the statuses and social roles that the dead held during their lives. There is no direct relationship between particular grave goods, or visual and symbolic elements of them, and particular messages.
Burials and grave goods are not just burials and grave goods. They are cultural deposits within the built environment and within the cultural landscape. Their placement in the ground is shaped by local cultural practices and by the status and rank distinctions that are significant to those burying the dead, but as cultural deposits, burials and grave goods also shape the significance of particular places and spaces. The absence of some kinds of grave goods from sites in western North Carolina does not necessarily mean that there were no people with comparable statuses or roles as those in other areas of the Mississippian Southeast, but it does suggest that groups in southwestern North Carolina may have had no access or comparably less access to these materials or that they chose not to put them in the ground as grave goods.
At the Warren Wilson site, burials are distributed throughout the village, though not all houses include burials, though 11 out of 18 contain from one to six burials. The number of burials that include nonperishable grave goods, as well as the overall quantity of grave goods, is relatively limited. Shell beads are the most common and numerous form of grave goods, followed by gorgets. The remaining grave goods occur in only one or two burials. These had knobbed shell pins, intact whelks, bone awls, turtle shell rattles, worked and unworked animal bones, cut mica, and ocher. The adult male in burial 7 had shell bead bracelets, 18 cut-mica disks, four large mica disks cut in the quarted-circle design, a conch shell filled with ocher and garfish scales, two bone awls, and six terminal phalanges from a panther, which may have been arranged in the hair of the individual.
The grave goods from warren Wilson is difficult to evaluate due to small sample size. There is no clear evidence for a pattern of achieved status based on age, with the possible exception of two male elders, buried with the greatest range of grave goods.
At the Garden Creek site, there were three mounds and a village. Mound 1 is a Mississippian platform mound covering the remnants of paired earthlodges. Mound 2 is Hopewellian, dating to the Woodland period, though it has burials that are associated with the Pisgah phase. Mound 3 might have been a Middle Woodland mound, comparable with Mound 2. There were 36 total burials discovered; eight in Mound 2, 24 in Mound 1, and four in a house in the village that are associated with Mound 1. Grave goods are present in only 16 of the 36 burials. All but three were found in Mound 1 and the village. The rest were from Mound 2.
Shell beads were the most common form, though there were others. These included shell gorgets, shell pendants, stone discs, stone celts, conch shell fragments, knobbed shell ear pins, and copper fragments. Mortuary items are more commonly associated with young adult women and children, rather than with men; though the men do have some grave goods. There were 17 burials that were adults in Mounds 1 and 2, whose sex could be determined. Ten of which were female.
Excavations at the Coweeta Creek site have uncovered 83 burials, including the skeletal remains of 88 individuals. Grave goods are present in 15 out of 24 townhouse burials, and in 14 of 59 burials in the village. Again, shell beads are the most frequent form of grave good, followed by shell ear pins, shell mask gorgets, and shell pendants. Most town house burials are of adult males and children. The burials with multiple kinds of grave goods are located in and beside the townhouse, and female burials are located in domestic houses. Most burials with grave goods are older adults or young children. Some have age-specific or gender-specific associations. Grave goods here seemed to have marked both achieved and ascribed statuses.
Despite the small number of burials with grave goods at all three sites, and the relatively small numbers of grave goods, the authors came up with five conclusions. First, at Warren and Garden, shell beads, shell gorgets, and shell pendants are most frequently associated with children, and therefore, they likely reflect ascribed or associative statuses. Second, there are significant associations between specific structures and concentrations of burials with grave goods. Third, there are intriguing hints about changes in marking gender-related statuses in late prehistoric and seventeenth-century burials at these sites. Fourth, they emphasize changes in mortuary practices in southwestern North Carolina after European contact in the Southeast, evident in comparing and contrasting patterns at Coweeta with those at Garden and Warren. Last, they conclude that the placement of grave goods in the ground was significantly guided by the placement of burials themselves within the build environment of these settlements.
All of these comparisons will enable archaeologists to better understand changes in the social and political organization of native communities in the southern Appalachians from late prehistory through the aftermath of European contact.
Koerner, Shannon D., Sullivan, Lynne P., and Braly, Bobby R.
2011 A Reassessment of the Chronology of Mound A at Toqua. Southeastern Archaeology. 30:134-147
In this article Koerner, Sullivan, and Braly, write about a site in Monroe County, Tennessee. The focal point of the paper is a specific platform mound, Mound A. Ceramic and shell gorgets have associated with this mound, and the final two mound levels were occupied no later than the mid-fifteenth century. The placements of the burials shows a theme that is seen throughout many other Mississippian towns in the Tennessee Valley. The burials are mostly primary. There were only formal burials located on levels H and I of the mound. Remains from earlier levels were not formal interments.
The ceramic vessels in Mound A are defined as Late Mississippian pottery, with its well-known forms and decorations. Formal burials from level H, have many distinctive shell-tempered pottery vessels. These include long-neck bottles that were modeled into both human and animal forms, which were decorated with negative painted designs, as well as a human effigy bowl that has the shape of a female hunchback.
Burned structures on level E offer insight on mound domestic assemblage. There were four vessels on the floor, a Dover chert "sword", and a polished celt lying on a raised clay bench near the entrance. Four vessels were found on the floor. One was a cordmarked jar with a thickened peaked rim, and the other was a strap-handled jar decorated with incised arcs with zoned punctuates and a notched rim. The other two were not reconstructed. The "sword" is important to note because it is illustrative of Middle Mississppi exchange networks in which Dover chert was a preferred medium. The sword has definite iconographic connections with engraved marine shell gorgets depicting dancing/fighting human figures. These swords were often found in elite burials.
More light is shed on the Mound A burials and the temporal placement of the mound levels, through a series of engraved shell gorgeets. The styles are diagnostic of Mississippian occupations prior to A.D. 1450. An interred female had a remarkable example of marine shell adornment for a single individual. She had an elaborate necklace formed from ten small, fenestrated rattlesnake shell gorgets joined at the center by a large shell gorget depicting a water spider. All of the above is important in the article in order to help illuminate the chronology of Mound A at Toqua.