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“The Life and Death of Bone: A Regional Approach to the Interpretation of Fragmented and Culturally Modified Oneota Human Remains” by Nicole L. Geske

April 25, 2018 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Join us for the dissertation defense of “The Life and Death of Bone: A Regional Approach to the Interpretation of Fragmented and Culturally Modified Oneota Human Remains” by Nicole L. Geske on Wednesday, April 25th from 3:00-5:00 pm in C103 McDonel Hall.


This dissertation utilizes previously collected archaeological, mortuary, and osteological data from multiple village and mortuary sites attributed to the Midwest archaeological culture known as Oneota (AD 900-1700). Isolated and fragmented human remains are commonly encountered in both mortuary and non-mortuary contexts, including burials, refuse and storage pits, and scattered throughout villages and middens. Many of these remains are also culturally modified through processes such as burning, incising, and polishing.

Although research regarding these remains is limited, these deposits have been attributed to violence and/or trophies of war. Therefore, the primary objective of this research was to examine the presence of fragmented and culturally modified human remains at Oneota sites and to theorize their possible meaning(s). This also included an evaluation of previous conclusions of violence. A secondary objective of this dissertation was to assess if published and previously collected data could be used to answer new research questions.

Using spatial and correspondence analyses, this dissertation demonstrates patterning in the presence and location of culturally modified human remains. A contextual approach, as well as a theoretical framework that views the body as dividual and partible, were also used to demonstrate how human remains can become fragmented and isolated. Finally, ethnographies of the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) and Ioway were used to find historical links between past and historic practices.

This dissertation demonstrates a preference for cranial and long bone elements for fragmentation, as well as cultural modification. The choice of cranial elements is tied to the concept of the location of the soul, while the act of cultural modification is a transformation to either enhance or erase previous identities. Due to the degree of fragmentation, it cannot be precisely determined who specifically was used for this treatment. It is argued that these remains represent an aspect of the Oneota mortuary program that has not regularly been included in previous analyses.

Multiple difficulties in data collection and analysis were encountered, primarily for data regarding fragmented and isolated human remains. Several varying treatments for isolated human remains were noted, leading to difficulty in their analysis and interpretation. Due to this difficulty, suggestions for future data collection for isolated human remains are provided.


C103 McDonel Hall

Michigan State University

East Lansing,

United States

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Department of Anthropology