Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lyle W. Konigsberg

Committee Members

Lee Meadows Jantz, Andrew Kramer, Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan


The Arikara are one of the last Native American tribes to have direct contact with Europeans. Prior to westward expansion of Euro-American settlers, the Arikara served as middlemen in a complex trade network that brought European goods to the Upper Plains in exchange for fur and food items. In the 18th century with a growing European presence in the region, the Arikara experienced drastic bio-cultural and socio-political destabilization leading to population decline. However, these transitions are unclear because of limited written records prior to the early 19th century. Several hypotheses have been proposed to account for the near extinction of the Arikara tribe including warfare, inter- and intra-tribal conflict, disease, and resource stress.

This research sought to better understand the population dynamics within the Larson Site. The Larson Site (39WW2) cemetery, a relatively unbiased and well-preserved skeletal assemblage (N=643), was re-analyzed to evaluate the demographic variability associated with increased European presence. The main focus of this research demonstrates how age-at-death estimation methods impact the mortality profiles and demographic measures derived from them. Traditional phase-base approaches, long bone skeletal development, Transition Analysis, and multifactorial approaches for both juvenile and adult individuals were used to compute age-at-death estimates for each individual within the cemetery. The point age-at-death estimates served as the basis for survival analysis via parametric hazards models. The Siler model was used to understand the overall pattern of mortality, while the Gompertz and Gompertz-Makeham models were used to explore adult-specific mortality patterns. The results indicate that the high number of juveniles and the relatively low survivorship of adults imply that the population may have been experiencing a mortality event, like an epidemic. The high fertility and death rate must be incorporated into future models. Also, the overall patterning of the adult mortality is obscuring any sex-specific adult mortality pattern.

This research is the beginning of a larger project to explore the utility of multi-state models of morbidity and mortality to better explain the population dynamics within the Larson Site and between the Larson and other Arikara villages.

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