Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Walter E. Klippel

Committee Members

Charles H. Faulkner, Richard L. Jantz, Edward E. C. Clebsch


Information on mortuary practices and mortuary remains is here used to study hunter-gatherer organizational variability. Ethnographic accounts are used to develop expectations about the impact of organizational variation and mobility on mortuary behavior. Archaic burial sites in the Middle South and Midwest are used to archaeologically evaluate some of these ideas. Most archaeological studies of mortuary practices have relied upon gender, age, and status as sufficient elements for explaining mortuary variability. These studies have usually concerned sedentary groups which exhibit fairly stable composition and economies. Many hunger-gatherer groups, however, were not sedentary or organizationally stable. Therefore, I argue that some assumptions used in the many mortuary studies are not appropriate for the interpretation of hunter-gatherer mortuary practices.

Differences in mobility should be reflected in the proportion, age, and sex composition of secondary burials at hunter-gatherer sites. The degree and nature of mobility also impact the development and use of burial sites. Secondary burial should be most frequent when residentially mobile groups occupy large economic territories, but have fixed seasonal aggregation sites. For logistically mobile groups, secondary burials should include a high proportion of adults who were involved in long-distance movements. Problems in the archaeological recognition and recovery of secondary burials are investigated. Secondary burials have probably been under-reported in many archaeological studies.

Spatial and temporal predictability of resources partially determine hunter-gatherer group mobility and organization. Group fusion and fission patterns are important in structuring aggregate group rituals, including funerals and other rites of passage. These activities were important to long term group livelihood and viability. Distinctive mortality distributions are recognized from Archaic sites interpreted to represent aggregate group occupations versus family group occupations. The aggregate group burial pattern includes individuals of importance beyond the family level (primarily economically and reproductively active adults) who were buried at aggregation sites whenever possible. The family groups pattern includes burials of individuals, especially the very young and very old, who were important at the family level. These individuals were commonly buried at seasonally used family campsites if they died during periods of group fission.

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