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The Bioarchaeology of Virginia Burial Mounds

Debra L. Gold

Publication Year: 2004

A long-ignored prehistoric moundbuilding people.

By the 14th century more than a dozen accretional burial mounds—reaching heights of 12 to 15 feet—marked the floodplains of interior Virginia. Today, none of these mounds built by the nearly forgotten Monacan Indians remain on the landscape, having been removed over the centuries by a variety of natural and cultural causes. This study uses what remains of the mounds—excavated from the 1890s to the 1980s— to gain a new understanding of the Monacans and to gauge their importance in the realm of the late prehistoric period in the Eastern Woodlands.

Based on osteological examinations of dozens of complete skeletons and thousands of isolated bones and bone fragments, this work constructs information on Monacan demography, diet, health, and mortuary ritual in the 10th through the 15th centuries. The results show an overall pattern of stability and local autonomy among the Late Woodland village societies of interior Virginia in which a mixture of maize farming and the collection of wild food resources were successful for more than 600 years.

This book—uniting biological and cultural aspects of the data for a holistic understanding of everyday life in the period—will be of interest to ethnohistorians, osteologists, bioarchaeologists, and anyone studying Late Woodland, Mississippian, and contact periods, as well as middle range societies, in the Eastern Woodlands.

Debra L. Gold is Associate Professor of Anthropology at St. Cloud State University.

Additional reviews:

"Debra Gold's book represents the first scientific, bioarchaeological study of the mound builder populations in central Virginia and is a welcomed addition to our understanding of health, subsistence, and mortuary practices among Native American groups in the eastern Woodlands."—Southeastern Archaeology

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover Page

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pp. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-17

The work described here is part of a larger research project, centered at the University of Virginia under the direction of Jeffrey Hantman and focused on the archaeology and ethnohistory of the Monacan Indians andtheir ancestors in interior Virginia. I am grateful to Jeff Hantman who first suggested I study the Bioarchaeology of Rapidan Mound and who has...

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pp. 1-5

Though its starting point is death, the real focus of this study is the life of late prehistoric Native American peoples of interior Virginia. This region was at the crossroads of some of the most fascinating cultural devel-opments of late prehistoric North America. To the west and south were the centers of the Mississippian chiefdoms, with large earthen mounds, hier-...

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1. From Jefferson to Jamestown: Monacan History through English Eyes

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pp. 6-30

Virginia mound archaeology has a well-known starting point: Thomas Jefferson’s late-eighteenth-century excavation of a burial mound near his home at Monticello (Jefferson 1954). Unlike many who came after him,Jefferson recognized the connection of contemporary Native Americans to the mound he excavated. In Notes on the State of Virginia, written in the...

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2. Virginia Burial Mounds

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pp. 31-63

At least 13 accretional earthen and earth-stone burial mounds were constructed and used in interior Virginia during the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries (and possibly later). These sites (Figure 2.1), which help define the Late Woodland period in interior Virginia, were originally labeled the “Lewis Creek Mound Complex” by MacCord (1986) and are also...

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3. The Bioarchaeology of Middle Range Societies

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pp. 64-79

Late Woodland interior Virginia provides a particularly interesting case study for the examination of regional dynamics of social complexity and the emergence of systems of social and political inequality. There is little doubt of the existence of such systems on the coast of Virginia, at least by the late sixteenth century when historical documents describe the Pow-...

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4. Bioarchaeological Analysis: Skeletal Inventory, Subsistence and Health Patterns, and Mortuary Activity

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pp. 80-121

In this chapter the bioarchaeological evidence for subsistence and health patterns in the Virginia mound burial populations is presented. Given the well-established synergy between disease and nutrition, it is impossible and undesirable to separate fully a consideration of paleo nutrition from health. The first section of this chapter describes the skeletal remains for...

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5. From Measurements to Meaning: Monacan History through Monacan Bones

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pp. 122-136

The subject of this study has been patterns of subsistence and health over several hundred years in late prehistoric interior Virginia. Beginning with a series of general questions about the ways in which patterns of subsistence and health operate in so-called middle range societies and the ways in which these patterns might change with the emergence of more formal-...


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pp. 137-156


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pp. 157-160

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384067
E-ISBN-10: 0817384065
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817351441
Print-ISBN-10: 0817351442

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: Illus.
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 772459204
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Bioarchaeology of Virginia Burial Mounds