In the shadow of Moundville: A bioarchaeological view of the transition to agriculture in the central Tombigbee valley of Alabama and Mississippi

Kristrina A. Shuler
Shannon C. Hodge
Marie E. Danforth, University of Southern Mississippi
Danielle N. Cook


Biocultural patterns surrounding the emergence of agriculture from 11 sites in the central Tombigbee River valley (500-1200 AD), 50-100 km west of the emerging Moundville polity, suggest that while food production may have alleviated some ecological stress, it came at a cost. Markers of childhood arrest indicate earlier weaning, likely creating a cycle of rising fertility and competition, but surviving adults appear better off following intensification. Health disparities at farmsteads, including more prevalent anemia, growth defects, lower limb infections, and accidental trauma, are consistent with increasingly competing demands of domestic and corporate modes of production. Although these agricultural settlements in the hinterlands were not severely compromised as predicted by a strictly top down model of provisioning, health risks assumed by farmsteads may have resulted from provisioning to centers and/or corporate lineages while simultaneously mitigating larger risks (e.g., raiding). The greater health risks assumed by farmstead females suggest that they had less control over production and decision-making than women buried at centers, while height and upper body strength at mound centers, in addition to rare but extreme trauma, point to identities that were mapped not only onto the landscape, but onto the bodies of men and women occupying elite spaces. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.