Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

William M. Bass

Committee Members

Richard Jantz, Francis Jones, Wlater Klippel, Fred Smith, Charles Faulkner


The purpose of this study was to examine the biological and social evidence of stress at the Averbuch site (40DV60), a late Mississippian Period Middle Cumberland Culture village from the Nashville Basin in Middle Tennessee. Recent excavation of this site produced one of the largest systematically excavated skeletal series from Tennessee. The majority of burials were recovered from three cemeteries which could be aligned temporally. It was hoped that analysis of this skeletal series would illuminate conditions which contributed to the late prehistoric decline and ultimate disappearance of the Middle Cumberland people from the Nashville area.

A general investigation of stress was accomplished with a life table approach assuming a stationary population model. The vital statistics produced by this analysis includes data on mortality, survivorship, age-specific probability of death, life expectancy and crude mortality rates. These data are compared to that of other populations. Crude mortality rate was used to estimate Averbuch population size. The life table approach was also used to examine stress between the cemeteries and the sexes. Evidence of biological (i.e., short stature, Harris lines and enamel hypoplasia) and social (i.e., scalping) stress was examined. Frequencies and means are presented and the differences between the cemeteries and sexes are subjected to an analysis of variance. Evidence for scalping was also examined.

The results of the demography indicate that the Averbuch infants experienced a high mortality rate, the adolescents were the least stressed, and adult males and females were most stressed during the 20 to 25 year age interval. The crude mortality rate of 60 per thousand per year was among the highest noted in the literature. Male crude mortality rate increases temporally while the female mortality remains relatively constant. The age specific distribution of death between the sexes and the cemeteries are examined. The only significant differences (p > .005) was between Cemetery 3 females during the 20 to 25 year age interval. The crude mortality rate (60), number of years the village was occupied (15 to 25 years) and the estimated total number of dead (n = 1,232) were used to calculate an Averbuch population size of between 800 and 1,400 individuals.

With the exception of stature between the sexes, analysis of variance tests produced no significant differences when the proposed stress indicators are examined in respect to sex or cemetery. However, the interaction of sex and cemetery for enamel hypoplasia was significant. The mean number of stress episodes is greater for Cemetery 1 females than males whereas this relationship is reversed for the males and females from Cemetery 2 and 3. Social stress was evident in the form of scalping which appeared on six crania, three from Cemetery 1 and three from Cemetery 3. Both sexes and a variety of adult ages were among the victims.

From this study it may be concluded that the Averbuch people were severely stressed by both biological and social forces, and the biological stress was widespread among the population. Demographically, there is no evidence of an epidemic. The stress was chronic and did not result from seasonal, or patterned, episodes of starvation or malnutrition. Temporally, there is no statistically significant increase or decrease in the occurrence of stress (i.e., Harris lines or lines of enamel hypoplasia) in the skeletal series. The occurrence of scalping is evident of the extreme social stress experienced by the inhabitants of Averbuch.

The significance of these findings in reference to the late Mississippian Period populations who lived in the Nashville Basin is discussed. A hypothesis concerning the late prehistoric disappearance of these people is presented for future testing.

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