Terminal Late Woodland Mortuary Ceremonialism, Social Differentiation, and Long Distance Interaction in Northern Ohio: New Evidence from the Danbury Site

By Redmond, Brian G. | Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, MCJA, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Terminal Late Woodland Mortuary Ceremonialism, Social Differentiation, and Long Distance Interaction in Northern Ohio: New Evidence from the Danbury Site


Redmond, Brian G., Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, MCJA


Abstract The period from A.D. 800 to 1200 was a time of marked cultural transitions across the Midwest which featured the Mississippian emergence in the west and development of sedentary, tribal societies to the north and east. Recent salvage excavations at the Danbury site, a terminal Late Woodland habitation and cemetery in northwestern Ohio, document the intensified exploitation and storage of aquatic faunal resources and maize and the creation of a large corporate cemetery. Whelk shell ornaments accompanying certain burials point to long-distance interaction with southeastern societies as well as new forms of social differentiation. Preserved fibers of cotton (Gossypium spp.) in the dental calculus of several important individuals reveal previously unrecognized social or economic linkages with societies as distant as the Southwest or northern Mexico. The combined evidence for subsistence intensification, specialized mortuary treatments, and long-distance material exchange at Danbury represent unique local responses to pan-regional socio-cultural transformations.

The final two centuries of the first millennium A.D. witnessed dramatic changes within Late Woodland societies across the Midwest. McElrath and colleagues (2000) have characterized this era as the final of three significant cultural "transformations" in Late Woodland societies. Hallmarks of this transformation include the adoption of the bow and arrow, maize-based horticulture, and a dramatic shift in cordage production (final S-twist to final Z-twist) which may have heralded a larger Late Woodland "technological package" spread by expanding populations in the region (McElrath et al. 2000: 20-21). In the middle Mississippi Valley, this transformation took place within societies that were also experiencing increased social and political stratification which culminated in the Mississippian cultural climax. Indeed, by A.D. 1050 these societies were so significandy transformed, that archaeologists no longer characterize them as "Late Woodland" (Pauketat 2002:154). To the north, terminal Late Woodland peoples adopted some aspects of Mississippian cultural practices within developing tribal social frameworks such as Oneota (Emerson 1999; Stoltman and Christiansen 2000: 517-519).

At the eastern fringe of the Midwest, post-first millennium A.D. cultural groups of the lower Great Lakes region and middle and upper Ohio Valley (Sandusky, Whitdesey, Fort Ancient, and Monongahela) developed their own forms of maize-based subsistence systems, material technologies, and villagecentered lifeways but without the kinds of ranked chiefdoms or formally stratified social constructions that originated in the Middle Mississippi Valley (Drooker 1997; Drooker and Cowan 2001; Genheimer 2000; Redmond 1999; 2009; Stothers et al. 1994). Historically categorized as "Upper Mississippian," these societies are most often viewed as socio-politically non-stratified, with leadership positions being temporary or situational in nature (Pollack and Henderson 2000:212-213; Drooker and Cowan 2001:94; but see Cook 2008). Thus, the focused study of the transitional centuries between A.D. 800 and 1200 across the Midwest is key to a more thorough understanding of Late Prehistoric period origins and culture change in the region.

In Ohio, the social and cultural transitions between terminal Late Woodland and early Late Prehistoric period societies are not deeply understood (Redmond 2000:434). Recent salvage excavations at one transitional era site in the western Lake Erie basin, known as the Danbury site, provides the opportunity to examine this significant period of culture change in greater detail. This Late Woodland warm season habitation and cemetery on the shores of Lake Erie exemplifies the initial stages of the cultural transformations oudined for this important period in regional prehistory. This study reviews the methods of investigation and the nature of the extensive terminal Late Woodland archaeological component revealed at the Danbury site.

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Terminal Late Woodland Mortuary Ceremonialism, Social Differentiation, and Long Distance Interaction in Northern Ohio: New Evidence from the Danbury Site
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