Southeastern Mississippian Mortuary Practices: A Gendered Perspective
Denene Erin Fleming



            The goal of this paper is to discuss gender roles and ideologies that are important among southeastern Mississippian peoples.   Traditionally, gender roles have been ignored or presented as a universal assumption in archaeological research.  For many decades archaeologists have looked at the burials of people in prehistoric communities as expressions of those communities gender ideologies and social organization. This paper considers the research of Southeastern Mississippian mortuary practices and how they have been studied in the past and present.  My primary interest is the inclusion or exclusion of gender in mortuary studies and how researchers study gender issues.  I will conduct a basic analysis of the mortuary practices at the Warren Wilson site, focusing on sex-differences and social status representations within the burials. 

The term Southeastern Mississippian refers to the region that includes Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and parts of Louisiana (Bense 1994:2).  The Mississippian stage occurred around A.D. 1000-1500.  The Mississippian stage’s hallmarks were the development and spread of chiefdom level sociopolitical organizations, the belief system known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, and the expansion of platform mound centers (Bense 1994:6). 

            Archaeologists can benefit from looking at mortuary practices by observing the manner in which the dead were disposed, as well as spatial and architectural associations with the burials.  When looking at mortuary practices, archaeologists can compare the material culture shown in the burials along with age and sex to answer questions about social status and gender.  There is a basic assumption regarding mortuary practices, described by O’Shea (1984) as, “an individuals treatment following death bears some predictable relationship to the individual’s state in life and to the organization of the society to which the individual belonged” (O’Shea 1984 in Driscoll, Davis, and Ward 2001:134). 

               Archaeologists need to use caution when applying this assumption to other cultures.  It is a common mistake for someone to leave out or overlook the symbolism and ritual that lies behind a person’s burial (Driscoll, Davis, and Ward 2001:134).  Symbolism is especially important in mortuary practices; the way that a person is buried is a process centered on ritual.  Ritual can portray a message of how things should be or an expression of how things really are.  We must keep in mind that it is other people who bury the dead, and they are the ones who have the power to manipulate these expressions.

            Gender is defined as a product of social and cultural processes, not biological givens (Conkey and Spector 1984:2).  In our culture we are taught to believe that there are only two gender categories, males and females.  There can also be other gender categories, which include boys, girls and others such as the “berdache,” a native North American who adopts an identity usually associated with the other sex.  In our society today we have gender categories such as transsexuals and hermaphrodites.  Our ideas of gender are created by our society’s expectations (Eastman and Rodning 2001:3).

            Most of the time archaeologists appear to be aware of the limitations of what they can know about the past, which is called the “false notion of objectivity” (Conkey and Spector 1984:6).  As Lewis Binford said, “We have no idea how prehistoric human groups were socially partitioned” (Binford 1968 in Conkey and Spector 1984:6).  Later in the same article Binford contradicted himself when he said that men made stone tools and women presumably engaged in plant processing.  Binford indicated that the division of labor is based on gender, which is a statement about the way prehistoric groups were socially partitioned.  How can an archeologist actually know that gender roles dominated a strict division of labor?  Some archaeologists have said that there is a lack of female evidence in the archaeological record; this sort of attitude reflects the problem with androcentrism.  By saying that there is a lack of evidence of females in the archaeological record archaeologists are exhibiting preconceived notions about gender roles. Many archaeologists also approach the issue of gender from a presentist perspective in which the past is viewed with the intent of elucidating features that can be linked to the present (Conkey and Spector 1984:5).  Archaeologists describe other cultures using our own assumptions about what gender is without thinking about whether or not the culture being studied differs from ours.  Approaching research with a presentist perspective does not meet the goals of anthropology, which are to describe cultural diversity and commonalities.

            Many archaeologists use ethnohistoric references when approaching the issue of gender roles in their research.  Although ethnohistoric evidence is essential to our understanding of prehistoric human groups, it is important to keep in mind that most of these descriptions were written by men and may have an androcentric bias.  The European view contributed to androcentrism because in the past most anthropologists have been western, white, middle to upper-class men whose positioning by race, class, and gender shaped their perspective on research and especially their research questions (Conkey and Spector 1984:4).  Theda Purdue said, “Like the Native men who provided most of their information, male European observers had virtually no access to the private lives of women or to women’s culture” (1998:4).  The problem with an androcentric assumption is that roles and the social status of males and females are derived from our own cultures assumptions.  Our society’s cultural constructions of gender characteristics are that men are stronger, dominant, and more active than females.  Females are weak, passive and dependent. 

            Conkey and Spector discuss the Man-the-Hunter model created by Washburn and Lancaster (1968) in their discussion on androcentrism in archaeology.  The Man-the-Hunter model makes assumptions about gender roles and has served as a baseline for archaeologists working with later human populations.  The model discusses assumptions about a male and female division of labor in early hominid life.  In archaeology, the division of labor assumes a gendered distinction of artifacts; projectile points as male and ceramics as female.  Conkey and Spector found that the Man-the-Hunter model lacked any explicit theory of human social life.  This model is an example of an attempt to reconstruct past lives using our cultural notions of gender as the basis for reconstruction.  An example would be the assumption that females are restricted by their biological characteristics associated with pregnancy and childrearing, which is a full-time activity.  These are culturally specific ideas and are projecting our cultural constructions onto our earliest ancestors.

            In the past, most researchers interested in prehistoric peoples have been male and have brought their gender ideologies into the field with them.  This has resulted in the loss of females in the historic and prehistoric records.  The dominant androcentric paradigm appears to have been widely accepted by most people.  Female anthropologists, such as Margaret Mead did not begin writing and questioning gender roles until the 1950’s.  Women like Mead brought about awareness concerning these issues and were partially responsible for the creation of feminist anthropology.

Feminist Approaches

            Feminist approaches in anthropology and archaeology are recent; they did not appear until the end of the 1970’s.  Most recent works with feminist studies of gender are concerned with gender and sexuality and how they are cultural constructs.  Researchers’ theoretical perspectives may vary, but all feminist researchers agree that gender is multifaceted and an important social phenomenon with different dimensions such as gender roles, gender ideology, and gender identity (Conkey and Spencer 1984:15 and Eastman and Rodning 2001:3). 

            Approaches in feminist anthropology fall into three main categories and reflect the chronological development of feminist anthropology:  feminist critiques of androcentrism, studies that can be described as “the anthropology of women,” and issues related to sexual asymmetry or the relationships between gender systems (Conkey and Spector 1984:17).  An example of the early feminist critique would be the critiques that many women wrote concerning the Man-the-Hunter model.  Feminist critiques of early hominids have raised questions about the universality of the sexual division of labor.  Later anthropological studies have looked strictly at women and have been useful in revealing the range of activities of women when viewed cross-culturally, challenging the stereotypes that women have limitations.  This focus has initiated numerous new ethnographic studies that revisit previous works and attempt to highlight women’s roles.  It is possible that this sort of information could challenge the rigid sexual division of labor theory in archaeology. 

            The latest interest of feminist anthropologists debates the universality and expression of sexual asymmetry.  The classic work Women, Culture, and Society edited by Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, sparked this debate (Conkey and Spector 1984:18).  The authors in the volumes make the general assumption “that all contemporary societies are to some extent male-dominated and although the degree and expression of female subordination vary greatly, sexual asymmetry is presently a universal fact of human social life” (Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974:3 in Conkey and Spector 1984:18). 

            Sherry Ortner attempts to formulate a theory as to why there is universal gender asymmetry in Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1974).  Ortner says there is a universal cultural construction of male-power versus female-subordination.  She reasons that if everything universal relates to nature, and if female subordination is universal, then female subordination must relate to nature.  Women’s physiology is seen as closer to nature than men, “the woman is adapted to the needs of the egg rather than to her own requirements” (Ortner 1974:24).  In many cultures this sort of biological cycle interrupts a woman’s routine, putting restrictions on her activities, thus stigmatizing her.

             Ortner’s second point is that women’s role is seen as closer to nature referring to her confinement to the domestic family.  Women are connected to children, and children are likely to be categorized with nature, which connects women even closer to nature.  Ortner argues the validity of women’s closeness to nature and culture using the comparison of women raising children to Levi-Strauss’s theory – The Raw and the Cooked (1969) that we as humans distinguish ourselves from nature and regulate it through the use of ritual. It is through ritual that the natural, dangerous, and unacceptable is transformed into the cultural, acceptable, and safe.  She says it is women who transform babies into cultured adults, teaching them the proper ways to adhere to our culture, thus aligning women closer to culture and farther from nature.

            Most current feminist research has moved away from the discussion of the universality of gender roles to the variability of gender roles.  Recent work that looks at the relationship of gender organization to culture change are extremely relevant to archaeologists.  Archaeologist Chris Rodning has made some of these observations concerning gender roles and culture change by looking at women in protohistoric Cherokee society and their shifting gender ideology with the advent of the deer skin trade.  The hormonology of the development of feminist research can also be seen in archeological research.

Background Information

            It is important to look at past studies on southeastern mortuary practices in chronological order to see how these general ideas of gender and social status are displayed in actual archaeological studies.  The studies provided are by no means exhaustive, but representational of particular periods and important sites in southeastern archaeology. 

            Most of the earlier archaeological work that was done around the 1940’s to early 1970’s tended to focus on mounds and ornate grave goods.  “Traditionally, archaeologists have concentrated on the lives of past elites, whose social status and place are represented by monumental architecture and prestige goods that have a greater archaeological visibility than the architecture and other material culture associated with more routine aspects of past lifeways” (Rodning 1998:5).  A lot of the ethnohistorical writings described mounds and their use for burials and as the bases for ceremonial structures (Peebles 1968:82).  Most of the research at this time was interested in issues such as social stratification and identifying who the elites were of such stratified societies. 

            The work of Lewis Larson looks at social stratification at the Etowah site (1968).  This study analyzes the burials that are located in Mound C compared to the burials that are located in the close village cemeteries.  Larson looks at the range of burial goods that accompany human burials in both areas to figure out whether the population was socially stratified and whether individuals with more power were buried in Mound C.  The individuals buried in Mound C do not appear to have been discriminated based on their age or sex.  Men, women, and children were all found buried in the mound indicating that the individuals buried in Mound C are from a selected group, probably based on kinship.  Larson says, “The only type of social selection on this level of cultural complexity, a selection that is not predicated on age or sex, is one that is apparently based on kinship (a selection based on the manner of death does not seem likely)  (1969:66).  The presence of children buried in Mound C with identical grave goods as adults indicates that there was ascribed status in this society.

            The range of exotic materials included in the mound burials consisted of marine shells, sea turtle rattles, gorgets, and shark teeth.  These types of grave goods were completely absent in the village cemeteries.  Even within the descent group, there are indications of internal ranking due to the ornate grave goods such as copper headdresses.  Larson says that there were two individuals wearing this uniform one male and one child whose sex was not indicated. 

            Larson states that the main purpose of his research is to look for social stratification at the Etowah site. He does not mention the word gender or try to compare social stratification based on grave goods and sex.  Larson does observe that there is no age or sex distinction within the mound.  In 1968, when this research was being carried out, there was not an emphasis being made on gender; instead, mounds lead people to speculate on issues such as power and ranking within societies. 

            Christopher Peebles conducted a study at the Moundville site, which was another large ceremonial center, and sites in the nearby Pickwick Reservoir in Alabama.  Peebles wrote Moundville and Surrounding Sites: Some Structural Considerations of Mortuary Practices II in 1968, around the same time of Larson’s research on Etowah.  There is an occurrence of a certain class of grave goods that are buried with individuals in the platform mounds but not in village cemeteries or the cemeteries located in the mound center.  Local communities had no sex differentiations within their mortuary practices although Peebles did comment that he found ceramics with males and females.  When speaking of ceramics found within these burials, I am referring to ceremonial ceramics that were made for the purpose of accompanying the deceased.  This observation is significant because both males and females are receiving the same treatment at death, indicating that this society did not correlate power with sex.   Within the village cemeteries there appeared to be necessary rituals that accompanied people with status, although these rituals were not as ornate as those of the individuals buried within the mounds. 

            Charles Snow sexed most of the skeletons that were sexed in the Southeast in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  The criteria that Snow used to sex skeletons were the skull and the grave goods.  The act of sexing a skeleton was backed up by cultural constructions about what were male and female attributes and artifacts (Claasen 2001:16).  The recent criteria for sexing individuals are based on characteristics of the pelvis.  Snow was responsible for sexing the skeletons at Moundville, resulting in a female to male ration of one to two (Claasen 2001:16).  Powell conducted research on mortuary practices in 1968 and eventually attempted to resex 424 adults in 1988.  Powell’s results were a female to male ratio of forty-five to forty-four.  Powell did note that four other physical anthropologists have examined the skeletons, and although there were some discrepancies there was a far better agreement between them and the excavators.  The excavators made sex distinctions in the field based on grave goods.  The nature of Powell’s research between the 1968 study and 1988 study shows the evolution of feminist approaches in archaeology over a twenty-year duration.

            Few would argue that the dominant theme in archaeology has been the systems theory, which was popularized by Kent Flannery in 1967.  Systems theory looks at the large picture as one big system and how everything is connected within the system.  This perspective has found useful information on resource-procurement systems, seasonality and scheduling, and other general features of subsystems.  This approach is preoccupied with the system(s) behind the Indian and the artifact (Conkey and Spector 1984:22).  When studying these systems individuals are not considered: “The actors who procured resources and made decisions about the allocation of their time and labor have somehow become invisible, if not irrelevant and subservient to the system of which they are a part” (Conkey and Spector 1984:22).  Gender is not taken into consideration when using the systems approach.  The individual and small groups are irrelevant, thus gender roles are not taken into account.

            Christopher Rodning has written three studies that all look at gender at the Coweeta Creek site located near Franklin, North Carolina.  Rodning’s first paper is Archaeological Perspectives on Gender and Women in Traditional Cherokee Society (1998).  This paper’s argument is that gender distinctions made through the burials of people in different architectural spaces are critical for understanding the social structure at Coweeta Creek.  There are two different architectural spaces that are representative at Coweeta Creek.  The council house is associated with the burials of men, and most of the graves in the village are associated with women.  Women’s graves in the village also tended to be associated with houses that were themselves usually associated with a particular clan.  This reflects the power that women had within kinship since Cherokee societies were matrilineal.  There is ethnohistoric evidence that men spent most of their time within the council houses, thus it is logical to believe that male burials associated with council house stands as a monument of honor to the deceased.  Rodning goes on to mention other archaeological sites that have comparable mortuary patterns in nearby Cherokee villages.  

             This study was the beginning of Christopher Rodning’s investigations into gender roles at Coweeta Creek and Cherokee cultures as a whole.  He says, “I would argue, however, that understanding the social structure of Cherokee communities before the deerskin trade and cultural interactions of the eighteenth-century is critical to understanding Cherokee cultural change as documented in historical and archaeological records of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (Rodning 1998:17).  

            Rodning’s second paper regarding gender at Coweeta Creek was Early European Trade Goods in the Native Town at Coweeta Creek in Southwestern North Carolina (2000).  The goal of this paper is to reconstruct the role of European material culture, focusing on how access to European goods may have affected the Coweeta Creek’s gender ideology.  The evidence of European material culture at this site consists of glass beads and kaolin pipes, which were found in male burials and around the council house.  The presence of trade goods in an architectural space that served as a men’s space offers clues into the role of trade in men’s lives.  The archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence indicates that men were the ones who were involved in trade with early Europeans.  Rodning’s theory is that men may have used trade relationships with Europeans as a means to challenge their power vested primarily in women.  Women’s power was evident and went unchallenged for many years due to power that is given to women in matriarchal societies.  Men tried to enhance their power and status to women through European trade goods.  Chris Rodning’s ideas concerning gender at Coweeta Creek are revolutionary for the region and have sparked much interest concerning gender in archaeology in the Southeast.

            The early mound focus ignored gender in its examination of social stratification.  The popular systems approach is responsible for ignoring individuals and their ideologies concerning gender.  Perhaps earlier archaeologists saw gender as a natural phenomenon, and did not consider gender to be a cultural construction that was created differently in different societies.  Peebles research shows progression from not mentioning gender to the re-sexing of skeletal remains based only on physiology in response to Snow’s artifact based sexing.  In the Southeast today, there appears to be a strong movement towards looking at gender in the archaeological record.  In 1996 there was a symposium about archaeological studies of gender in the Southeast, held at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Birmingham, Alabama.  Chris Rodning (2001) says that gender is a burgeoning niche within archaeology.

  Methodological Approaches

            New methodological approaches have come about in the past few years.  The following methods are not ones that I personally use or feel partial to, but are illustrations of what feminist approaches in anthropology and archaeology have accomplished. 

            Bone chemistry is used in the analysis of human remains when trying to determine what types of food were in people’s diets.  There is two assumptions concerning gender when studying bone chemistry:  men and women have the same diet and chemical uptake is uniform in the bones of men and women (Claasen 2001:18).  It is highly likely that the individuals who participate in hunting and gathering of resources will consume a larger amount of prey in their lifetime than the individuals that do not participate in food-procurement activities (Claasen 2001:18).  It is possible that there were gender specific diets due to their different roles in food-procurement.  A gendered methodology for a dietary study would be to treat the bones of males, females, and children as their own distinct groups and not average them all together.  Another important idea is that not all chemical differences in bones are related to diet, there are other factors. 

            Janet Spector has presented a methodological approach to the study of gender called “task differentiation” (Conkey and Spector 1984:24).  The study of ethnoarchaeology can result in theoretical contributions to the study of gender in prehistoric groups.  Ethnoarchaeology links the material and nonmaterial world.  Since we are unable to back into the past and observe gender roles our best attempt is to look at modern hunting and gathering societies and observe their gender roles.  Spector hopes that with a sufficient cross-cultural framework application of the framework we can gain reliable knowledge about the variation in gender arrangements, the factors in explaining observed variations, and how the variability can be related to the archaeological record. 

            The task differentiation framework highlights male and female activity patterns and the four interrelated aspects of the activity:  the social, temporal, spatial, and materials dimensions of each task carried out by any group.  Tasks would include food procurement and processing, construction and maintenance of buildings, reproduction, ritual life, etc.  Social dimensions are the age, sex, number and relationships of the performers.  Temporal dimensions are when the task is performed such as seasonally and how long it takes each time.  Spatial dimensions are when each task is performed.  Finally, material dimensions are all the materials associated with one task, also including facilities and structures.  Once these dimensions of a task are identified each gender can then be separated for analytical purposes to study gender specific features.  With enough of these studies we could eventually approach the archaeological record with an understanding to interpret assemblages in terms of gender.

            Site cathchment is a classic archaeological approach that can be suitable for gender studies (Claasen 2001:20).  In order to do site catchment one would draw circles of one, five, or ten kilometers radius around a site and then inventory the natural resources within that area to determine which ones are local and non-local.  This technique has been used in ethnological work studying the hunting and gathering Chipewyan of Canada.  When studying the hunting patterns of the group it was observed that women tended to hunt closer to the camp than men.  “One archaeological implication of this is that catchment analysis of food resources located within 3 to 5 kilometers of a settlement site, or 5 to 10 kilometers if [using a canoe] will encompass the food-animal resources of primary interest to women” (Brumbach and Jarvenpa 1997 in Claasen 2001:20).   Claasen says that a site catchment analysis usually highlights women’s activities as contributing more than men’s.  But by observing the archaeological record with the goal to only highlight women’s activities, we are doing what many feminist researchers claim to be androcentric.    

            The disciplines of anthropology and archaeology have come a long way from the early androcentric descriptions of prehistoric peoples, to the study of gender roles in archaeology as a perspective new sub-discipline.  The study of mortuary practices was far from a gendered awareness during the time when interests where focused on social stratification and elites.  The development of gendered analyses in archaeology still has much room to improve and new methodological approaches are essential to the development of this field.










The Warren Wilson Site


Archaeological Background

            The Warren Wilson site was recorded in 1940 during a WPA archaeological survey.  The Research Laboratories of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted excavations at the Warren Wilson site beginning in 1966.  The main effort of excavations has been to uncover the Pisgah village, which is believed to have dated to AD 1250-1450, within the Mississippian period.  The size of Pisgah sites range from small seasonal or special-function sites to groups of homesteads that is located within one village (Dickens 1976:18).  The average size ranges from 2 to 3 acres and larger villages with mounds have been identified.  The Warren Wilson site has produced the most information concerning Pisgah cultures.  This site was chosen not only for the Pisgah element but the presence of stratified earlier Woodland and Archaic elements. 

            Since the beginning of excavations in 1966, 59 burials have been recovered, fifty-four of which could be studied.  There has not been much research about the mortuary practices at the Warren Wilson site.  Roy Dickens conducted a preliminary examination of the first 35 burials that were recovered discussing basic behavioral patterns at the Warren Wilson Complex (Wilson 1986:44).  Wilson conducted a study on burial 58 focusing on biological characteristics such as prehistoric demography, healthways, and social organization (Wilson 1986:44). 

            Dickens (1976) discerned a number of basic patterns in the mortuary practices.  He observed that most burials were flexed with their heads oriented to the west, they were buried in a simple pit or shaft and chamber pits, and males were more likely to be buried in chamber pits with grave goods than females.  Dickens goes on to say that “grave differences may be tied to differences between family or household units, which in turn may indicate either differential ranking among kin groups in the village community or temporal variation” (Wilson 1986:43). 

            Homes Wilson’s (1984) first area of study at the Warren Wilson site was the analysis of Burial 58 focusing on biological characteristics.  Homes concluded that the individual was a female between the ages of 35 and 40 years old at the time of her death.  The individual had cranial deformation, which is a common characteristic of many of the individuals analyzed at the Warren Wilson site.  The body was lying on its side, flexed with her head facing to the northwest.  The grave was a simple pit with no grave associations.  This description fits Dickens (1976) composite of burials 1-35.  This study brings up information about prehistoric demography, healthways, and social organization that a biological focus can provide. 

            Wilson’s second area of study was to test the probability of there being a correlation between burials with grave associations and the placement of burials within the village.  She used two areas of distinction within the village, private and public.  A “private” area consists of burials located within the confines of a house structure or in close proximity, such as being intruded or intruding on the walls of a structure.  A “public” area has burials that occurred outside of the house structure walls (Wilson 1986:55).  The results were that 44% were found in public areas and 56% in private areas.  Of all the burials in the public area, only 11% had grave goods while 33% of the burials in private areas did have grave goods. 

            Wilson considered the male and female segments of the population using an assumption based on this study, stating that individuals with high or special status are more likely to be associated with house structures.  Special status is indicated by the location of the individual’s burial within the site, grave associations, and burial pit types (Wilson 1986:58).  Of the 16 individuals in the private area that could be sexed, 62% are males and 38% are females.  Wilson found that young males less than 25 years old, and old males age 35 or more are more likely to be buried in private areas.  For females, the older they are the more likely they will be buried in the private sector.  She suggests that females buried in the private sector had achieved status, which is correlated with old age.  The fact that Cherokee’s were matrilocal has an effect on the pattern of male burials.  Males that married into a clan did not achieve status until a period of a few years with the clan.  Males that died prior to marriage still held the status of the clan they were born into, and would be buried within that clan. 

            I have gone back and reviewed materials concerning the mortuary practices at the Warren Wilson site.  My first initial goal was to look at burials with the intent of discerning gender roles, but later found out this wasn’t feasible.  Identifying gender and the roles that accompany it is a very complex issue and I did not have enough time or resources to conduct a reliable analysis of the gender roles at the Warren Wilson site.  Instead, I have looked at the burials and the age and sex of the individuals, and whether or not there was a presence of grave goods.  The placement of the burials in context with the village is other aspects I have looked at. The resources that I have used consist of previous sex and age determinations, which have been assigned to the burials, a map of the Warren Wilson site, and a list of the grave goods that accompanied each burial. 

Archaeological Evidence

            All previous sex and age determinations were done either in the field or in the research laboratories looking at cranial morphology, suture closure, dental development, and dental attrition (Wilson 1986:46).  It was determined that 13 females and 18 males were present while 28 individuals sex could not be determined.  Such a high number of undetermined sexes could be the result of the high number of infants buried, which are difficult to accurately sex.  Another possibility for the difficulty in sexing individuals is inadequate preservation of the bones.  I believe that it most likely that due to the high number of infant burials sex could not be determined; 16 burials contained individuals less than 3 years of age.  The age distribution consists of 9 individuals in the range of 40+, 5 individuals ranging from 35-40, 3 individuals ranging from 30-35, 4 individuals from 25-30, 4 individuals from 20-25, 6 teenagers, 6 children ranging from 3-10, and 16 children 3 years and under. 

            Grave accompaniments were present in 13 of the 59 burials.  Based on sex, 5 burials with grave accompaniments were male, 1 female, and 7 were undetermined.  Grave goods consisted of shell beads, shell gorgets, and shell ear pins, mica discs, turtle shell rattles, and perforated animal bones (Dickens 1976:127).  The average burial containing grave goods would consist of a row of columella beads.  Most infant burials contained shell gorgets, and no other group of individuals at the site were buried with shell gorgets. There is one particular burial that stands out, Burial 7, which belonged to a male between the ages of 35-40 years.  This burial is located underneath of a fire hearth in a house structure and includes grave accompaniments such as columella bracelets, conch shell, bone awls, ochre, fish scales, and mica discs and panther claws.  This burial is different because of the wide-variety of grave goods that this individual had compared to the other burials, which usually contained one type of grave accompaniment.  The individual located in Burial 7 must have held a position of power within the village.  Dickens (1976) interpreted the individual in Burial 7 as a shaman or individual with great power.

            Within the village, there appears to be a total number of 16 possible house- structures identified, and 12 of the house structures contain one or more burials inside.  Most of the graves do appear to be associated with houses either inside or in close proximity to a house.  Although, there are a few burials that do not appear to be associated with any houses.  There is one area believed to be a “plaza” (Dickens 1976) that also contains burials.  The burials located within the plaza do not contain any grave goods.  The individuals buried in the plaza are adult males and females.  There does not appear to be any children buried in the plaza, although there was one burial that was unable to be aged or sexed. There appears to be no pattern of males or females being associated with houses or more public areas within the village.  The only identifiable structures at the Warren Wilson Site are houses; no structures resembling a council house have been identified.

            Every house within the village contains a hearth that is located in the center of the house and was used for cooking and for heat during cold weather.  Seven of the house structures contain burials located underneath the structure, three females and four males.  All of these burials are adults except for one, which is a young male between the ages of 14 and 16 years old.  About half of the individuals buried underneath of hearths contained grave accompaniments ranging from columella beads, perforated rabbit bones.  Burial 7 was buried underneath a hearth and is the burial that contained a wide-variety of grave accompaniments.

Ethnohistoric Background

            Ethnohistoric accounts about Cherokee culture come from journals and maps left by explorers and traders that traveled through the southern Appalachians.  The people that left behind written accounts did not intend to record Cherokee culture; most of these people were looking at the flora and fauna of this region, or seeking out business opportunities.  I am looking at summaries of ethnohistoric accounts, summarized by Theda Purdue (1998) and Christopher Rodning (1998, 2000, 2001). 

            Cherokee men and women occupied separate categories that opposed and balanced each other.  They knew little about each other’s lives because of the common knowledge that crossing these boundaries involved an amount of danger.  Cherokee’s did have a division of labor based on gender, men hunted and women farmed.  The tasks that they carried largely defined gender.  The myth of Kana’ti and Selu provides an explanation of why men and women live the way they do.  Men hunted because the first man was responsible for providing his family with meat.  Women did the farming because Selu gave birth to corn, and then became the source of corn.  This myth provides insight into the reasons for the Cherokee’s gendered division of labor. 

            Cherokee communities were matrilineal communities, tracing kinship lines through the women.  When a male and a female married the male would become a member of his wife’s clan.  Their wife’s clan did not always accept men and at times it could take a number of years for them to be accepted by her clan (Homes 1986: 61).  Younger males who had not married yet still had the status that he was born into in his clan.  Women’s power within their communities is apparent due to the power that is associated with being the head of a clan.   


            I believe there were a number of houses in the village that were associated with people of power.  House B appears to be the house with people who were the most powerful in the village.  First, there is burial 7, which is the male burial that had the wide range of grave goods and stood out the most in the entire site.  The other two burials containing grave goods both belonged to infants and contained shell gorgets, marginella shells, and tubular shell beads.   One infant was buried without any grave goods.  The other two burials consist of one infant and one female about 25-30 years old without any grave goods.  One female is buried in the house, she was 25-30 years old, and had no grave accompaniments.  I believe that these people contained the most power due to the presence of Burial 7, and two infant burials with grave goods.

            House E is located to the south east of House B, and also appears to have a large degree of power associated with the individuals.  A female between the ages of 35-40 is buried underneath of the hearth and is accompanied with grave goods.  One male and one infant are buried inside with grave accompaniments.  There is another burial outside of the house, but close enough to be associated with House E.  The burial outside of the house is an older male, 35-40 years old, with grave goods.  This burial’s grave goods were also unique; the burial contained a number of perforated animal bones.  House’s D and C are also in the same location in the village as House’s E and B.  Both of these houses contain one burial of infant with shell gorgets. 

            I believe that the mortuary practices involving infants at the Warren Wilson site is indicative of power.  Young children with uniform grave accompaniments can be an indication of ascribed status (Larson 1969:67).  All of the infant burials with shell gorgets, excluding one, are buried in the area of the village associated with people of power.  Thus, infants containing shell gorgets at the Warren Wilson Site are expressions of ascribed status and indicative of the families that held power within this community.

            The presence of clans and matrilocal residences is apparent in the mortuary practices at this site.  There are nine burials with males over the age of thirty in the village.  Seven out of the three of these males are buried in close proximity to a house, or in the public area.  Two of the three males buried within houses are interred underneath of hearths and one is just placed inside of a house.  Older men were more than likely to have been married and part of their wives clan at their time of death.  Since they were not part of that clan by birth, they are buried outside of their wives, or wives clans houses.

            The area believed to be the plaza has four burials, most of which are adults.  The two females were in their 20’s, the one male was forty years or older, and one unidentifiable individual.  For some reason these adults do not appear to be associated with any clan.  I believe that these individuals were possibly never married, had deceased family members, or possibly crippled or ill.  These people could be the outcasts of the society, and at their time of death other people were unsure about where to bury them.  The plaza may have served as a good place to bury these types of individuals in a society that is largely defined by the clan that one is a member. 

            I believe that the people that lived at the Warren Wilson site were part of an egalitarian society.  There has been no evidence of a mound or a council house found at this particular site, which are usually signs of great social stratification and elites in a community.  Placement of burials and grave accompaniments do not appear to be isolated to any on type of sex group, the differences between males and females do not appear to be significant.  Both males and females have grave goods, and a small sample of each sex is buried beneath structure hearths.  It is true that women had power due to their association with clans, but men also appear to have power that was achieved.  The Warren Wilson Site’s mortuary practices reflect more of a balanced relationship between males and females than a sex-based stratification.


















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