My Research and Findings

  • Home
  • My Research and Findings

My Findings

Figure 1

NECKLACES AS SYMBOLS OF SOCIAL STATUS, AND RANK AND POWER

The neck and the top of the head are the two major focal points on the human body for displaying social status and rank. The articles displayed at these two locations are thus found high and centrally on the body. In archaeology, it is frequently only the more durable objects forming the necklace of an individual that are recovered by the archaeologist. The feathers of birds that form headdresses, however, may not be found because their less durable nature makes them prone to decay and decomposition. Thus only the necklace ornaments recovered from a pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the uplands of east-central Ohio will be considered here.

Found in clusters on a Monongahela hilltop site, the remains – and partial remains – of twelve necklaces have been recovered from refuse (trash) pits, houses, a lens of wood-fire ash, the plow zone and other contexts of a village occupied some seven hundred years ago. The necklace ornaments are of course composed of beads or a combination of beads and pendants. The pendants and beads, moreover, may also be made of different kinds of materials. Thus the beads and pendants composing a necklace function to identify the gender (sex) and social status, or rank and power of an individual in society. Indeed, the tooth pendants – revealing a tooth motif in several of the examples recovered – indicate the necklaces were worn by adult males and symbolize their relative ranking in the hierarchy of rank, political power, and authority at Brokaw Village. In contrast, the necklaces composed of beads – various types of shells and bird bones – and shell and pottery disks, indicate the necklaces were worn by females and symbolize their lower status in society relative to males due to gender inequality. The examples that follow will serve to illustrate.

The most impressive looking necklace recovered from the village is composed primarily of animal tooth pendants and bird bone beads. These were recovered from features associated with a house1 and the overlying plow zone in excavation units 7-10-P, 7-10-Q, and 8-10-R. The tooth pendants are composed of a very large black bear canine, two gray wolf molars, two elk incisors, an elk molar and premolar, two bobcat canines, a deer molar and premolar, two (and possibly four) raccoon canines, two cannel coal imitation canines, and an imitation canine of freshwater molluskan shell. In addition, two turkey digit pendants, two small shell disk beads, three Marginella apicina marine shell beads, and an unidentifiable bone pendant fragment were also found. The recovery of two examples of nine tooth and bead types suggests the necklace was constructed symmetrically, with the tooth and bead types on one side of the necklace being mirror imaged on the other side (Figure 1). Moreover, the recovery of three times as many bird bone beads and bead fragments (seventy-six) as pendants, suggests each pendant was alternated with a bird bone bead. Indeed, a second necklace may very well have been made only of beads.


Figure 2

The metrics of twenty-eight bird bone beads indicate they range in length from 11.2 to 73.6 mm, with a mean of 24.4 mm; and the diameter ranges from 4.8 to 16.2 mm, with a mean of 8.2 mm. Regarding the quality of the workmanship displayed by the beads, it ranges from fair to excellent, although several of the specimens exhibit extraneous cut-marks over their surfaces.

This necklace with a tooth motif depicting bear, wolf, elk, bobcat, and deer is a recapitulation of the dominant and major carnivores and herbivores of the region’s food chain. Thus it is the hierarchy of animals of this forest ecosystem that the Monongahela used to metaphorically symbolize the rank and power of the paramount leader of a village. Indeed, the analysis of a significant amount of the faunal remains from the Brokaw site by the University of Kentucky and the Smithsonian Institution indicates that the major carnivores – the bear, wolf, coyote, and bobcat – were not hunted as sources of food, but more for their teeth, which functioned as symbols for distinguishing rank and power in the village.

The ornament cluster forming this necklace is also the only one recovered from the village associated with a complex postmold pattern relating to a house structure. Thus some ninety-nine postmolds were found in excavation units 7-Q, 8-Q, 9-Q and 10-Q, and 7-R, 8-R, 9-R and 10-R. A comparison of these excavation units with those from which the ornaments were recovered indicates, with the exception of units 7-P, 8-P and 10-P, they are the same. Furthermore, the presence of three clusters of varicolored rocks (of hematite-limestone-and-agate) from the southeast quadrant of unit 9-R, and a nearly unique, thermally altered sidescraper of Flint Ridge chert recovered from unit 8-Q, support the contention that the necklace was symbolic of the paramount rank and power of the leader of the village. Indeed, they may also suggest a magico-religious function, thereby suggesting the political leader may have been a shaman as well.

A second necklace would suggest a lower ranking personage in the hierarchy of leadership at Brokaw Village. Composed of a lesser number of tooth pendants and bird bone beads than the first necklace, more than half of the ornaments are from a lens of soft, gray wood-fire ash at the 20-30 cm level of excavation units K-3 and K-4, and the plow level of adjacent L-3. The remainder, by and large, are from the immediately contiguous squares of K-2 and K-5, L-2 and L-4, and J-2, J-3 and J-4. The tooth pendants are composed of a gray wolf canine and molar, a coyote premolar and incisor, an elk incisor, two deer molars, two dog premolars, two raccoon canines, and an imitation canine tooth of black carbonaceous sandstone; two additional turkey digits round out the pendants. Two Marginella apicina marine shell beads, two small shell disk beads, and forty-four bird bone beads and bead fragments were also recovered (Figure 2). A black bear molar, also from excavation unit L-3, may also be a part of the necklace. However, the absence of a perforation, grooving, modification, polishing, or a discernible wear pattern near the base of the root for suspension makes its potential status as an ornament questionable. All of the pendants forming this cluster, with the exception of one raccoon canine, are extensively polished.


Figure 3

As in the previous example, the necklace is assumed to have been constructed symmetrically, as eight pairs of ornaments were recovered. The presence of a number of more bird bone beads (forty-four) than pendants suggests they, too, were an integral part of the necklace. This piece of regalia, with a tooth motif depicting wolf, coyote, elk, deer, dog, raccoon, and an imitation canine tooth of black sandstone, includes several of the larger carnivores and herbivores of the region’s food chain. The fewer number of teeth and the presence of pairs of wolf, coyote, deer, dog, and raccoon dentition (molars, premolars, canines, and an incisor), and a pair of turkey digit pendants, indicate the personage attired in this ceremonial necklace was of a lower rank in the leadership hierarchy and had less power and authority in the village than the paramount leader described above. Nevertheless, as in the first example, this personage would also have been an adult male.

A comparison of the bird bone beads of this ornament cluster with those associated with the first tooth necklace indicates they are a little longer and a little smaller in diameter. (Twenty-six beads from this second necklace range in length from 11.0 to 54.9 mm, with a mean of 25.5 mm; and the diameter ranges from 4.3 to 13.5 mm, with a mean of 7.2 mm. And the beads from the first tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm; and 4.8 to 16.2 mm in diameter, with a mean of 8.2 mm.) The differences in the metrics noted are minor, though, and no differences are suggested in the bird species utilized in the manufacture of the ornaments.

The partial remains of a third necklace suggest a bodily adornment of feminine origins. Recovered from a large refuse (trash) pit and the overlying plow level, a total of thirty-seven ornaments were found in excavation units L-6, L-5 and M-5. The ornaments are composed of a large shell disk, six Marginella apicina marine shell beads, a small shell disk bead, a rabbit pelvic bone (ilium) pendant, a squirrel pelvic bone (ilium) pendant,2 an imitation canine pendant of shell, the tip of an imitation canine pendant of cannel coal, and twenty-five bird bone beads and bead fragments (Figure 3).


Figure 4

Thus it is the gender contrasts implicit in the ornaments of this necklace that distinguish it from the ornaments of the tooth necklaces described above that denote rank and leadership. Clearly, what is presumed to be the central ornament of this necklace is also the most unique of the several ornament types composing this ceremonial adornment. A large shell disk, this ornament is 26 mm in diameter and has seven holes around the outer edge and one in the center. The hole in the center is the largest (4 mm), and, as suggested by the spacing between the seven perforations – with three on top and four on the bottom, it is reasonable to assume that the Marginella apicina marine shell beads were suspended from the offset orifices on the outer edge. Secondly, there are more types of ornaments made of shell with their curvilinear (feminine) shapes or a slit (suggesting female genitals and, by extension, fertility) than is found in the tooth necklaces. Moreover, the rabbit and squirrel pelvic bones are suggestive of the fertility of these animals and, by analogy, the human female, too. Finally, although there are two imitation canines, the teeth of the large and powerful predators, clearly masculine symbols, are noticeably absent. This adornment is accordingly attributed to an adult female.

A comparison of the metrics of the bird bone beads from this necklace with those associated with the first tooth necklace indicates the beads from excavation units L-6, L-5 and M-5 are shorter and smaller in diameter. (Twenty-five beads range in length from 12.0 to 50.5 mm, with a mean of over 23 mm; and the diameter ranges from 3.9 to 9.8 mm, with a mean of 5.6 mm. And the beads from the first tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm; and 4.8 to 16.2 mm in diameter, with a mean of 8.2 mm). This smaller diameter appears to be significant and thus suggests that the beads of this necklace were made from the bones of smaller bird species than some of the larger beads from larger birds composing the tooth necklace of the village leader. Accordingly, this may suggest that a hierarchy of birds – like the hierarchy of animals – was associated with the social and political hierarchy of the village.

The remains of a fourth necklace also suggest an adornment of feminine origins. Recovered from the fill of a burial pit, the overlying floor and other features associated with a house, and the still higher, overlying plow zone, the pendants and beads of this necklace were concentrated in excavation units 5-L, 5-M and 4-M; several, however, were also recovered from 3-L and 6-L, and 4-K and 5-K. The ornaments of this adornment are composed of two turkey digit pendants, two rabbit pelvic bone pendants, two freshwater shell pendants, four Marginella apicina marine shell beads, a T-shaped turtle shell pendant, a bird bone scapula (?) pendant, and thirty-one bird bone beads and bead fragments. The two turkey digits, two rabbit ilia, two shell pendants, and four marine shell beads suggest the necklace was symmetrical in form (Figure 4). Also, all of the pendants and many of the bird bone beads were recovered from below the plow level, and many of the latter are in good condition.


Figure 5

Thus it is the gender contrasts implicit in the ornaments of this necklace that also distinguish it from the ornaments of the tooth necklaces described above that denote leadership. More specifically, the two rabbit pelvic bone pendants are suggestive of the fertility and reproductive powers of the female of this small mammal; the four Marginella apicina shell beads with their slit openings are suggestive of female genitals and fertility; the rounded bottoms of the two freshwater shell pendants suggest feminine ornaments, as they contrast with the pointed imitation canine tooth form of shell associated with the first tooth necklace described above; the turkey is largely a ground-dwelling wary bird, in contrast to the more powerful, high-flying birds of prey – eagles, hawks, and owls; and the box turtle is a ground-dwelling animal lacking in physical strength. Together, the several ornament types suggest an adornment of an adult female.

A comparison of the bird bone beads of this ornament cluster with those associated with the first tooth necklace indicates they are, in general, longer and thinner. (Twenty-six bird bone beads from this location range from 20.2 to 56.6 mm in length, with a mean of 30.1 mm; and 3.7 to 11.0 mm in diameter, with a mean of 6.1 mm. And the beads from the first tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm; and 4.8 to 16.2 mm in diameter, with a mean of 8.2 mm.) This would indicate that the diameter of the beads of the fourth necklace were smaller at the lower and upper ends of its range. Thus a smaller bird species was used in the manufacture of the smallest beads of the fourth necklace. This, again, would suggest a hierarchy of birds associated with the social and political structure of the village.

A fifth necklace, composed entirely of bird bone beads, was also found at Brokaw Village. Part of the fill of a very large and complex refuse pit, the necklace is composed of twenty-eight beads (Figure 5). Impressively, the pit encompasses over half a dozen five-foot squares. Nevertheless, the cluster of beads forming this necklace was recovered from only two excavation units, 2-H and 2-I, 3 and most of these came from the northwest quadrant of 2-H and the adjoining southwest quadrant of 2-I. The close proximity of the beads to one another suggests they were all discarded into the pit at the same time. Moreover, the two inches of cultural bearing soil matrix overlying the pit was easily distinguishable from the underlying pit matrix. The former, however, did not contain any bird bone beads or other ornaments.


Figure 6

A comparison of the bird bone beads from this pit with the bird bone beads composing the first tooth necklace described above indicates the beads from the refuse pit are generally longer and thinner. (The beads from the pit range from 16.6 to 58.2 mm in length, with a mean of 33.3 mm; and 3.1 to 11.5 mm in diameter, with a mean of 6.8 mm. And the beads from the tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm; and 4.8 to 16.2 mm in diameter, with a mean of 8.2 mm.) This may suggest that several of the smaller beads from the pit were made from a smaller bird species than those from the tooth necklace. Whereas the teeth of the larger carnivores and herbivores composing the tooth necklaces are associated with the masculine gender, a high social status, and leadership, the absence of any tooth pendants with the bird bone bead necklace suggests the adornment was very likely associated with a person of a much lower social status, and may well have been a woman. Still, the absence of any shell beads, or a shell or pottery disk, makes attribution of the necklace to a female uncertain, and a lower status male cannot be ruled out.

The partial remains of a sixth necklace also suggest an adornment of feminine origins. Recovered primarily from excavation units 4-P and 4-Q, and adjacent 3-Q, 5-Q and 5-P, nearly all of the ornaments composing this necklace were found in the plow zone. The ornaments are composed of a cord-marked pottery sherd disk, two tubular shell beads, two Marginella apicina marine shell beads, and twelve bird bone beads and bead fragments (Figure 6).

As in two of the previous examples, it is the gender differences implicit in several of the ornaments of this necklace that distinguish it from the tooth necklaces described above. In fact, three of the ornaments are unique among the several ornament types composing the necklace. The first, a cord-marked shell-tempered pottery disk, is thought to be the central ornament of the necklace because of its large size (30.7 mm in diameter) and curvilinear form. The second, two relatively long bivalve shell beads (15.5 and 16.7 mm), are made of a soft material and are of a tubular form. The pottery disk is associated with women, of course, because they are the manufacturers of pottery, and the shell beads have a curvilinear form that is associated with the curves of the female body. Moreover, the Marginella apicina marine shell beads are also associated with women as this species has a slit opening suggestive of female genitalia and fertility.

A comparison of the bird bone beads of this necklace with the bird bone beads of the tooth necklace associated with the village leader indicates the former are generally longer and smaller in diameter. (The metrics of nine beads range from 16.0 to 41.6 mm in length, with a mean of +24 mm, and range from 5.5 to 9.8 mm in diameter, with a mean of 7.8 mm; and the beads from the tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm, and 4.8 to 16.2 mm in diameter, with a mean of 8.2 mm.) The smaller diameter at the upper range may suggest that several of the beads from the pottery disk necklace were from a smaller bird species than those from the tooth necklace. No tooth pendants appear to have been a part of this cluster of beads. This observation would reinforce the interpretation that this “objet d’art” was an article of feminine adornment on special occasions.

The partial remains of a seventh necklace also suggest an adornment of feminine origins. Recovered from several excavation units designated as K-108, K-109 and K-110, all of the ornaments composing this necklace are from the plow zone. The ornaments are composed of fifteen bird bone beads and bead fragments, six Marginella apicina marine shell beads, one small shell disk bead, and the tip of an imitation canine tooth pendant of cannel coal: A total of twenty-three ornaments.

Again, as in the previous examples, it is the gender differences implicit in the ornament types of this necklace that largely distinguish it from the two tooth necklaces described above. Thus the six Marginella apicina marine shell beads are associated with women as this species of shell has a slit opening suggestive of female genitalia. In addition, the curvilinear form of the small shell disk bead is associated with the curves of the female body.

A comparison of the bird bone beads of this partial necklace with the bird bone beads of the bear canine tooth necklace of the village leader indicates the former are longer and significantly thinner. Also, the walls of several of the smaller beads appear to be quite thin. These same ornaments, in fact, appear to have an overall delicate appearance. (The metrics of thirteen beads and bead fragments range from 17.7 to 52.5 mm in length, with a mean of +23.5 mm, and the diameter ranges from 4.0 to 8.9 mm, with a mean of 5.6 mm; and the beads from the tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm, and the diameter ranges from 4.8 to 16.2 mm, with a mean of 8.2 mm.)

With a difference of more than several millimeters in the range of the diameters between the bird bone beads of the two necklaces, it is clear that the beads from the partial necklace are from smaller bird species than those of the bear canine necklace. Hence this difference in bird species indicates a hierarchy of birds not unlike the hierarchy of animals previously described. In conjunction with the six Marginella apicina marine shell beads and the small, cylinder-shaped shell disk bead, the smaller bird bone beads indicate this ceremonial article was worn by a female of a lower social status in the village than the several examples described above.

The partial remains of an eighth necklace also suggest an adornment of feminine origins. Recovered primarily from excavation units D-18 and E-19, and adjacent E-18, E-20, D-19 and D-20, the ornaments appear to be associated with a refuse pit located in units D-18 and E-18 that was partially destroyed by the farmer’s plow. The ornaments are composed of three Marginella apicina marine shell beads, three small shell disk beads, and thirteen bird bone beads and bead fragments. A total of nineteen ornaments. With only one exception, all of the bird bone beads display extensive polishing.

As in four of the previous examples, it is the gender differences implicit in two of the ornament types of this necklace that distinguish it from the tooth necklaces described above. Thus, the three Marginella apicina marine shell beads are associated with women, as this species of shell has a slit opening suggesting female genitals and, by extension, fertility; and the three small shell disk beads suggest the curvilinear forms associated with the female body. Indeed, the absence of any tooth pendants in this cluster of ornaments accordingly indicates this adornment may be attributed to an adult female.

A comparison of the metrics of the bird bone beads from this necklace with those associated with the first tooth necklace indicates the beads from the eighth necklace are potentially longer and a little larger in diameter. (Ten bird bone beads range in length from 10.9 to 73.5 mm, with a mean of +27.1 mm; and the diameter ranges from 5.3 to +16.6 mm, with a mean of 8.8 mm. And the bird bone beads from the tooth necklace range from 11.2 to 73.6 mm in length, with a mean of 24.4 mm; and 4.8 to 16.2 mm in diameter, with a mean of 8.2 mm.) The greater diameter of the beads from the eighth necklace appears to be significant, as one of the larger beads of this necklace is made from an eagle-size bird bone. Accordingly, this may well suggest that a hierarchy of birds was associated with the social structure of the village.

The highest-ranking bird in the hierarchy of birds proposed for this Monongahela village is, of course, the eagle, the dominant bird of prey. The hawk, a smaller bird of prey, is the second highest ranking bird in the hierarchy. Neither of these birds, however, was hunted as a source of food, but functioned as symbols that distinguished high-ranking personages. Indeed, of the 562 bird bone beads and bead fragments recovered from the Brokaw site, only 2 were eagle-size (Storrs Olson, Smithsonian Institution, personal communication). The wild turkey, the largest of these three birds, ranks third in the hierarchy of birds at Brokaw Village. The high rank of the eagle and hawk relative to the turkey and other bird species is predicated on the fact that they are large, powerful, high-flying birds of prey that aggressively hunt and kill live animals for food. The turkey, by way of contrast, assumes a lower status because, although it is large, it is primarily a ground-dwelling, wary bird, whose diet consists of insects, seeds, berries, and nuts.

In addition, the turkey was a major food item in the diet of the Monongahela. This is readily apparent from the list of bird species identified in the University of Kentucky’s and the Smithsonian Institution’s analyses of the faunal remains recovered from the Brokaw site. Smaller birds identified in the analyses that may also have been used in the manufacture of beads are the ruffed grouse, duck, and passenger pigeon. Accordingly, they too may have been a part of the hierarchy of birds. The bobwhite quail, indigo bunting, and the painted bunting were also present, but their bones were presumably too small to manufacture beads. The painted and indigo buntings, in fact, were very likely hunted for their colorful feathers, and not for other purposes.

ENDNOTES

1A charcoal sample recovered from a wood-fire hearth associated with the house features has been dated to 600 ± 30 BP (one sigma range). The 95.4% High Probability Density calendar calibrated age ranges from 654-541 cal BP or 1296 to 1409 AD. Beta Analytic, Inc. (Beta 528342), Miami, FL.

2This squirrel ilium (pelvic bone) was recovered from the plow zone of excavation unit J-3, located some 10 feet away from L-5. Nevertheless, it is regarded as part of the necklace, as only four pelvic bone pendants were recovered during the many years of work at the site; the other two are part of necklace number four.

3A charcoal sample recovered from a small hearth pit overlain by a 4-year-old child burial in the southeast and southwest quadrants of excavation unit 2-I has been dated to 580 ± 30 BP (Measured Radiocarbon Age). The 95.4% High Probability Density calibrated age range is 650-581 cal BP or 1300-1369 cal AD (63.6% likelihood) or 570-532 Cal BP or 1380-1418 cal AD (31.8% likelihood) Beta Analytic, Inc. (Beta 528341), Miami FL.