Date of Award
Master of Arts
William M. Bass
Fred H. Smith, Avery Henderson
Ethnohistoric and archaeological models have been used in making inferences about social interaction and relationships in Mississippian societies. In spite of an increasing awareness of cultural and biological interrelationships in approaching prehistoric societies, there remains a general lack of skeletal studies which have contributed to or supported these inferences.
The purpose of this investigation was to test the hypothesis that socially regulated or defined differences between groups of individuals existed at Chucalissa (40SY1), incorporating both archaeological and skeletal data. The ethnohistoric model of the Natchez social system and Ford's (1974:406) generalization that Mississippian societies were highly stratified due to a redistributional economy were evaluated for their applicability to Chucalissa.
The sample consisted of 162 individuals, for which there were skeletal remains or recorded burial information. Most burials were thought to be Late Mississippian.
Working from the assumption that differential burial treatment relays social meaning, burial data were examined for clues to social interaction and status. Stature and general pathological conditions were considered as their distributions have been attributed to the effects of social interaction or status.
No apparent differences were found between residential units to suggest that they may have represented distinct social units. However, high status was inferred for the individuals of the burial mound because of their unique grave associations and the variability encountered among burial attributes. The high percentages of nonspecific inflammation of the appendicular skeleton, degenerative joint disease, and healed fractures found among these individuals may have been related to activities of acquiring or maintaining this high status. The tallest males and females were found in this burial mound.
The distribution of pottery suggests that status may have been acquired at birth, but full social position was probably not realized until one reached adult status. The greater variability in burial attributes among subadults implies their tenuous social position. The high frequency of pottery among females and the high percentage of degenerative changes affecting synovial joints and healed fractures among males suggest that the major social distinction between males and females may have been a division of labor.
From these results, it was concluded that neither the model of the Natchez social system nor Ford's (1974:406) generalization that Mississippian societies were highly stratified due to a redistributional economy offered adequate interpretations of the data from Chucalissa.
Robinson, Ronald K., "Social Status, Stature, and Pathology at Chucalissa (40SY1), Shelby County, Tennessee. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 1976.