Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Mortuary Patterns and Community History at the Chauga Mound and Village Site, Oconee County, South Carolina

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Mortuary Patterns and Community History at the Chauga Mound and Village Site, Oconee County, South Carolina

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The study of mortuary practices contributes much to our understanding of past forms of social differentiation and identity. Items placed in burials are clues about social structure, political organization, status and wealth differentiation, and the relationships between the living and the dead in past communities (Binford 1971; Boudreaux 2010; Brown 1971, 1981, 1995a, 1995b; Carr 1995; Clayton 2011; Fisher-Carroll and Mainfort 2000, 2010; Hatch 1987; Mainfort 1985; Mainfort and Fisher-Carroll 2010; Marcoux 2010a; Morris 1987, 1992; O'Shea 1984; Parker Pearson 2000:72-94; Peebles 1971; Peebles and Kus 1977; Potter and Perry 2011; Rothschild 1979; Saxe 1970; Seikel 2011; Shennan 1975; Sullivan and Mainfort 2010; Tainter 1978). The meanings of specific mortuary items are not always easy to discern, however, in part because many probably held a myriad of meanings within the symbolic realm of mortuary practice and remembrance. Decisions about where to bury the dead and what to place in the ground with them are made by the living, and those decisions reflect community needs and preferences as well as achieved, ascribed, and associative statuses of the deceased (Chapman and Randsborg 1981; Cook 2010; Goldstein 1980, 1981; Hodder 1984; O'Shea 1981, 1996; Parker Pearson 2000:124-141; Shanks and Tilley 1982; Wilson et al. 2010). This paper applies aspects of Cherokee oral tradition toward understanding the mortuary program at the Chauga mound and village site (38OC47), located at the confluence of the Tugalo and Chauga rivers in northwestern South Carolina. Status differentiation within the Chauga community, and the wealth and status of Chauga relative to other South Appalachian Mississippian mound centers, are reflected in the mortuary program at the site (Anderson 1994; Kelly and Neitzel 1961), but so also is a practice of emplacement, by which a town (the Chauga community) anchored itself to a landmark (an earthen mound) and to a particular point in the landscape.

Another perspective considered here is the possibility that items placed in burials at Chauga represent inalienable possessions (see Weiner 1985, 1992). Inalienable possessions may take the form of material items, access to land or other resources, or specialized knowledge. They can never be given away from one person or one group to another, or can only be so transferred through carefully orchestrated ritual. Such goods can and do circulate, as in the case of the kula ring in Melanesia, but they typically are not owned by individuals, and, therefore, ownership of them, as such, cannot be transferred. Mortuary offerings may be quintessential examples of inalienable possessions, in that they become permanently associated with the deceased through the act of burial, and the enactment of rites of passage through mortuary ritual. As Weiner (1992:9) writes in her ethnography of "giving while keeping" in Papua New Guinea and Polynesia, "An inalienable possession acts as a stabilizing force against change because its presence authenticates cosmological origins, kinship, and political histories." As evident from Cherokee oral tradition discussed below, mortuary items and burials placed within earthen mounds and in public structures known as townhouses formed deposits that anchored towns to particular points in the landscape and protected those towns in the future. Items deposited in burials within the earthen mound at Chauga may have served as stabilizing and authenticating forces, especially as they became associated with the enduring landmark of the mound itself, and as they became immovable property when buried within the mound.

As Mills (2004:240) argues in her archaeological study of collective prestige structures in the Puebloan Southwest, "[inalienable possessions] are the basis for an alternative to the concept of prestige goods economy for understanding the role of social valuables in past societies." Following Weiner (1992), Mills (2004:Table 1) lists several general characteristics of inalienable possessions: they are not subject to mundane exchange transactions; they rarely circulate or do not circulate widely; they are considered to be repositories of knowledge; they require special knowledge to produce; production of such items is usually highly gendered; there are often only singular cases of such items; they are used in ceremonies of authentication and commemoration; they are used to authenticate individual and collective identities; and they are important for both the establishment and the defeat of hierarchy. …

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