Violence in the lower Illinois River Valley (ca AD 700-1250): An examination of injuries at Schild utilizing taphonomy, paleopathology and forensic science

Susan Dale Spencer
Anthropology, Indiana University
July, 2013


Anthropologists have explored levels of social conflict associated with the cultural and technological transition during the 9 th Century AD. The intensification of corn agriculture and the development of complex political systems during this period have been referred to as Mississippian (AD1050+). Archaeologists have previously argued for both increased and decreased levels of violence during the emergence of these centers. The largest and most complex center was Cahokia in present-day Illinois. The Schild cemeteries, forty miles from Cahokia, encompassed the transition with both Late Woodland (AD700-1050) and Mississippian (AD1050-1250) component burials. Hypotheses regarding patterns of lethal and healed injuries were tested using methods from forensic anthropology, taphonomy and paleopathology. Complex relationships between injury patterns, gender, burial wealth, and population movements were explored. Killings were more common in the Late Woodland component, but a Mississippian warfare casualty was confirmed by the presence of cut marks from the removal of a scalp trophy. Healed head injuries were more common among males, particularly in the Late Woodland component. Mississippian males had more broken noses and a pattern of healed head injuries that may signal their participation in a club-fighting sport. Healed fractures of the postcranial skeleton were associated with increasing age and decreasing bone density based on Husmann's (2011) data. Agricultural intensification in the Mississippian component was suggested by an increase in leg injuries. A regional comparison indicated that levels of violence were high during the Late Woodland and intermediate during the Mississippian components at Schild. The development of Cahokia and other Mississippian regional centers may have had a stabilizing effect due to emergent ideologies or the peripheralization of violence. The subtleties in the changing patterns of violence are discussed with regard to a dynamic sociopolitical landscape.