In the Best of Health? Disease and Trauma Among the Mississippian Elite

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Abstract

Comparisons of skeletal data on diet, disease, and trauma in elite and non-elite population samples from Mississippian sites throughout the Southeast have yielded a variety of patterns, some contradictory and some paralleling expectations based upon ethnohistoric accounts of elite sumptuary behaviors. Although trace element analyses of human bone from Alabama and Tennessee sites suggest that elites ate relatively more meat than their presumed social inferiors, non-elite health does not seem particularly compromised. The high prevalence of trauma in elite males at Chucalissa may reflect the role of warfare in male status advancement. The lords of the Southeast and their families may have been in effect ‘overnourished’ relative to everyone else, but probably not to the extent of historically documented African and Polynesian chiefly lineages whose literally weighty embodiment of superior social status impressed visiting travellers and ethnographers alike.

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