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The Lower Illinois River Valley (LIV) has been the subject of over a century of focused archaeological inquiry, resulting in robust body of data with which to investigate the lifeways of ancient indigenous peoples of midcontinental North America. Among the most visible components of this record are the Middle Woodland (50 cal BC-cal AD 400) and Late Woodland (cal 400-1000) assemblages that document an extended period of significant social and demographic transformation of the valley, marked by highly visible monumental architecture, e.g. mounds, and often complex mortuary practices culminating in the disposal of the dead with these monuments. Research reported in this dissertation addresses several outstanding questions concerning Woodland period settlement, moundbuilding and monumentality, mortuary practices, kinship, and ideology during the LIV Woodland period. First, radiometric data from habitation and mound sites are used to test models of LIV settlement between ca. 50 cal BC and cal AD 400. Analyses show the conventional model of north-to-south LIV settlement is generally supported by mortuary radiocarbon dates, but it is not wholly supported by dates from associated habitation sites. Existing data do not readily support intrasite chronologies at selection mound sites as well. Results indicate that LIV settlement was more complex than suggested by existing models and demonstrate the need for more robust models and datasets. Second, moundbuilding and monumentality are investigated using a geophysical approach. Results from several geophysical surveys of LIV Middle Woodland mounds using multiple instruments demonstrate the utility of this approach in the non-invasive investigation of internal mound structure. The geophysical work reported here is the first application to LIV mounds, and it points to new directions for the anthropological study of LIV mounds through non-invasive methods. Finally, a bioarchaeological/biological distance approach is employed to investigate Woodland period mortuary practices, kinship, and ideology between ca 50 cal BC and cal AD 1000. Two studies are reported, one regional and one intrasite, that document interrelationships between community membership, post-marital residency, kinship, and ideology. Results demonstrate Woodland period mortuary practices were an important process through which kin groups/lineages established and legitimized existing social relations within communities.


Midwest archaeology, Illinois archaeology, bioarchaeology, biodistance, mortuary practices, kinship, ideology, geophysics, moundbuilding, monumentalism, radiocarbon

Project Sponsors

Geophysical survey at Golden Eagle reported in Chapter 3 was supported, in part, by a National Geographic Society/Waitt Foundation grant (W295-13). A National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (BCS-0654011) supported the research reported in Chapters 4 and 5.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Pearon, Obsjorn

Second Committee Member

Charles, Douglas K.