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Bioarchaeology and Identity in the Americas

Edited by Kelly J. Knudson and Christopher M. Stojanowski

Publication Year: 2009

Bioarchaeology and Identity in the Americas represents an important shift in the interpretation of skeletal remains in the Americas. Until recently, bioarchaeology has focused on interpreting and analyzing populations. The contributors here look to examine how individuals fit into those larger populations.

The overall aim is to demonstrate how bioarchaeologists can uniquely contribute to our understanding of the formation, representation, and repercussions of identity. The contributors combine historical and archaeological data with population genetic analyses, biogeochemical analyses of human tooth enamel and bones, mortuary patterns, and body modifications. With case studies drawn from North, Central, and South American mortuary remains from AD 500 to the Colonial period, they examine a wide range of factors that make up identity, including ethnicity, age, gender, and social, political, and religious constructions.

By adding a valuable biological element to the study of culture--a topic traditionally associated with social theorists, ethnographers, and historical archaeologies--this volume highlights the importance of skeletal evidence in helping us better understand our past.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

A person’s identity is shaped by many factors, but political economy, social organization, and the history of society are at the top of the list. These in- form social constructions and uses of sex and gender, age, access to food and other resources, and physical characteristics to understand a person’s place and role in society. ...

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1. The Bioarchaeology of Identity

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pp. 1-23

Identity is an extremely important focus of research in the social sciences and humanities today, despite its nebulous nature, which defies easy monolithic definition. At the most general level, identity refers to peoples’ perceptions of themselves and how they relate to larger social phenomena that characterize their existences. ...

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2. Key Concepts in Identity Studies

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pp. 24-56

During the closing decades of the twentieth century, identity emerged as a key construct within the social sciences and humanities, as scholars dis- cussed and debated topics such as ethnicity, ethnogenesis, religious identity, and gender. Anthropologists entered the arena, followed by archaeologists, who have added a temporal dimension ...

Part I. Community Identity and Ethnogenesis

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pp. 57-58

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3. Bridging Histories: The Bioarchaeology of Identity in Postcontact Florida

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pp. 59-82

Many modern Native American tribes, particularly in the eastern United States, are the products of complex social, political, and biological processes of adaptation that began with European contact in the last decade of the fifteenth century. Modern tribal identities such as Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole emerged during the intervening centuries and represent examples of historical ethnogenesis ...

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4. The Reconstruction of Identity: A Case Study from Chachapoya, Peru

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pp. 82-102

Despite its central position within social science research, ethnicity is a complex topic best addressed using multiple lines of evidence and flexibility in the operational definition that one assumes. Although often modeled based upon the European experience or linked to industrialization and capitalist societies (Bentley 1987), studies of ethnic identity ...

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5. Post-Tiwanaku Ethnogenesis in the Coastal Moquegua Valley, Peru

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pp. 118-140

While ethnogenesis can result when unrelated outsiders co-opt a group’s identity (Haley and Wilcoxon 2005), it can also occur in situ as individuals shed old social identities and develop new ones in the social and political vacuum created during state collapse. How, then, can we identify when culturally expressed group identity is crafted by those who are co-opting others’ identities, versus instances when new identities are forged by people who, ...

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6. Surviving Contact: Biological Transformation, Burial, and Ethnogenesis in the Colonial Lambayeque Valley, North Coast of Peru

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pp. 126-152

The extraordinary biocultural interchange between Native Americans and Europeans beginning in the fifteenth century embodied an adaptive transition that irrevocably shaped modern humanity. Bioarchaeological studies have begun to characterize the consequences of this transition for Native Americans, revealing diverse and complex outcomes ...

Part II. Identity Formation and Manipulation at the Level of the Individual

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pp. 153-154

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7. Cultural Embodiment and the Enigmatic Identity of the Lovers from Lamanai

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pp. 170-191

Excavations approximately twenty years ago at Lamanai, Belize, uncovered a burial that we believe is still unique in the Maya world. The burial, of three individuals (figure 7.1), lay in a grave dug as part of the rebuilding of the stair of Structure N11-5 during the Late Postclassic period, probably circa AD 1450–1500. ...

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8. Cranial Modification among the Maya: Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence?

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pp. 177-193

There is increasing consensus among researchers interested in cranial modification in Mesoamerica and among the Maya in particular that the practice was a normal part of growing up in Maya society (Duncan and Hofling 2004; Geller 2004; Joyce 2001; Tiesler Blos 1998, 1999). Using ethnohistoric sources, researchers have argued that the biological body needed to be acted on in various ways in order to become a fully functioning social entity in Maya society. ...

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9. The Complex Relationship between Tiwanaku Mortuary Identity and Geographic Origin in the South Central Andes

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pp. 194-211

When faced with the political integration and expansion of states and empires, incorporated peoples often create and manipulate political, social, and religious identities in their interactions with larger and more powerful polities. In the Andes, as in other regions, states and empires like the Tiwa-naku (ca. AD 500–1100) and the Inka (AD 1400–1532) ...

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10. The Bodily Expression of Ethnic Identity: Head Shaping in the Chilean Atacama

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pp. 212-228

Investigations of body modifications allow archaeologists to discern individuals and their agency in prehistory, a crucial element in exploring societal structures. Parents in many cultures bind the heads of infants at birth to impart a permanent and socially meaningful marker of identity. Despite this, research on body modifications by physical anthropologists ...

Part III. Concluding Remarks

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pp. 229-230

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11. Identity Formation: Communities and Individuals

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pp. 231-236

While many archaeologists and bioarchaeologists recognize the multifactorial nature of identity, in practice most studies emphasize only one or at most two dimensions of variability, commonly age and gender or gender and ethnicity. This is seen in the Gowland and Knüsel (2006) volume and in various archaeological treatments (e.g., Díaz-Andreu et al. 2005; Insoll 2007). ...


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pp. 237-238


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pp. 239-248

About the Author

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pp. 249-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048222
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033488
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033489

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 29 b&w illustrations, 8 tables
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians -- Anthropometry.
  • Indians -- Population.
  • Ethnoarchaeology -- America.
  • Group identity -- America.
  • Paleopathology -- America.
  • Paleoanthropology -- America.
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