Time's River: Archaeological Syntheses from the Lower Mississippi River Valley

By Janet Rafferty; Evan Peacock | Go to book overview

9
Bioarchaeology in
the Mississippi Delta

S. Homes Hogue


Introduction to Bioarchaeology

Over the past several decades, bioarchaeology has risen to the forefront in understanding and interpreting human behavior from archaeological skeletal series. Introduced in the mid-1970s, bioarchaeology represents an explanatory framework that recognizes the correlation between biological, cultural, and environmental variables (Blakely 1977; Buikstra 1976; Smith 1993). The bioarchaeology paradigm is a consequence of the “New Archaeology” revolution of the 1960s. New approaches to archaeological research were being realized, and the development of methods useful in understanding subsistence strategies, settlement patterns, and ecological adaptations were beginning to replace the traditional culture-history approach dominated by tool typologies and ceramic sequences (Smith 1993). Smith (1993) provides a detailed synopsis of the history of physical anthropology in southeastern archaeology. Several main points from her overview are expanded upon in the following paragraphs.

Prior to the bioarchaeological focus, typological classifications of human populations, like tool typologies and ceramic sequences, were not uncommon among physical anthropologists studying skeletal populations in the southeastern United States. Underlying this typological approach was the premise that human phenotypes and measurements could be reduced to unique types or races resulting from evolutionary selection (Smith 1993). Cranial measurements and shapes were used much like lithic and pottery types to document population movement and stability, culture contact, and miscegenation. The classification of southeastern crania is best exemplified by the work of Georg Neumann (1952, 1959). Neumann's interest in the regional diversity of physical appearances was founded in evolutionary principles. While discussing human antiquity in the New World, he states: “The increase in time-depth allows for a much greater possibility of such factors as genetic drift and selection in the adaptation to different environmental conditions to become operative in the racial differentiation of populations in various geographical areas” (Neumann

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