- Mission Cemeteries, Mission Peoples: Historical and Evolutionary Dimensions of Intracemetery Bioarchaeology in Spanish Florida by Christopher M. Stojanowski
For many decades now, archaeologists working in Spanish Florida have been concerned with mission churches. Not only did these structures represent the heart of the Indian communities in which they were built, but they have been key to investigating facets of the colonial experience unavailable from other sources. Some specific areas of interest have been religious architecture, construction techniques, building orientation, and the spatial relationship of churches to other buildings in the native communities in which missions were established.
Another primary focus of these studies has been the cemeteries found beneath the nave floors. The location and manner of burial is often suggestive of social standing, material wealth, and cultural influences—particularly when compared to pre-mission burial practices. Archaeologists have found a positive correlation among burials near the altar, coffin burials, and grave goods. Although each individual seems to have been carefully placed in pits large enough to accommodate their fully extended bodies, there was generally far less disturbance and superimposition of burials close to the altar. By contrast, it was common practice to dig burial pits into earlier ones farther back in the nave, creating tremendous admixture of skeletal remains and associated materials. Most coffin burials, which were relatively rare and labor intensive, were located close to the altar. The greatest concentrations [End Page 827] of grave goods (both native and European in origin) were also generally associated with individuals interred near the sanctuary.
The other fascinating component of mission cemetery investigations has been the study of the human remains themselves. The pioneer in this field was Clark Spencer Larsen (Ohio State University), who initiated the widely respected and productive La Florida Bioarchaeology Project and has written the foreword for this book. Larsen and his colleagues examined a range of variables, including ethnicity, age at death, certain diseases, injuries, activity levels, physical and/or nutritional stress, and sometimes even the direct cause of death (for example, gunshot). They were able to identify a complex of factors that resulted in the near extinction of the missionized native populations. Although epidemics were certainly a major factor, their impact was exacerbated by an overall nutritional decline, increased workloads, and poor living conditions.
The current study by Christopher Stojanowski adds a new dimension to the research discussed above. Using skeletal data from San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale, San Martín de Timucua, and three distinct burial populations on Amelia Island (Santa Catalina de Guale—Santa María, Ossuary at Santa Catalina, and Santa María de Yamassee), the author takes an evolutionary approach to re-evaluating mission cemeteries known as biodistance analysis. Through the spatial analysis of dental phenotypic and pathological variation within each assemblage, Stojanowski is able to identify familial similarities (kin-groupings) through their heritable traits revealing distinct mortuary patterns at the various missions. He has also used this approach to clarify chronological sequencing and to suggest possible in-migration of nonlocal natives at Amelia Island.
Stojanowski’s study is fascinating and thought provoking. Although this book is not light reading, it is clearly written and contextualizes its findings within the broader realm of Spanish Florida research. It will undoubtedly help lay readers appreciate the frontiers of science and how bioarchaeology is making unique contributions to our understanding of the Spanish colonial-mission experience.