Get access

Conflict and Societal Change in Late Prehistoric Eastern North America


  • George R. Milner,

    Search for more papers by this author
    • George R. Milner is a Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include human osteology, especially age estimation and skeletal trauma, in addition to the prehistory of eastern North America and ancient warfare. He has conducted field work in the United States, Egypt, and Oceania. Email:

  • George Chaplin,

    Search for more papers by this author
    • George Chaplin is a Senior Researcher in Pennsylvania State University's Department of Anthropology and teaches for the Department of Geography's Masters of GIS program. His principal interests are in spatial processes, as well as human and primate evolutionary ecology. He has done extensive paleontological work in Africa and Asia.

  • Emily Zavodny

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Emily Zavodny is an archeology graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include prehistoric warfare, mortuary ritual, and the Bronze Age in Eastern Europe. She has done field work in Portugal, Italy, Albania, and Croatia.



As recently as the 1980s, archeologists focusing on prehistoric eastern North America paid little attention to intergroup conflict.[1-3] Today the situation is quite different, as indicated by this Special Issue. Archeologists now face three principal challenges: to document the temporal and spatial distribution of evidence of conflict; to identify the cultural and environmental conditions associated with variation in the nature and frequency of warfare over long periods of time and large geographical areas; and to determine the extent to which intergroup tensions contributed to or resulted from changes in sociopolitical complexity, economic systems, and population size and distribution. We present data from habitation and mortuary sites in the Eastern Woodlands, notably the midcontinent, that touch on all three issues. Palisaded sites and victims of attacks indicate the intensity of conflicts varied over time and space. Centuries-long intervals of either high or low intergroup tensions can be attributed to an intensification or relaxation of pressure on resources that arose in several ways, such as changes in local population density; technological innovations, including subsistence practices; and the natural environment.