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An Integrative Approach to Mortuary Analysis: Social and Symbolic Dimensions of Chumash Burial Practices

  • Lynn H. Gamble (a1), Phillip L. Walker (a2) and Glenn S. Russell (a3)

Abstract

Although most archaeologists recognize that valuable information about the social lives of ancient people can be obtained through the study of burial practices, it is clear that the symbolic nature of burial rituals makes interpreting their social significance a hazardous enterprise. These analytical difficulties can be greatly reduced using a research strategy that draws upon the strengths of a broad range of conceptually and methodologically independent data sources. We illustrate this approach by using archaeological data from cemeteries at Malibu, California, to explore an issue over which researchers are sharply divided: when did the simple chiefdoms of the Chumash Indians first appear in the Santa Barbara Channel area? First we establish the social correlates of Chumash burial practices through the comparison of historic-period cemetery data, ethnohistoric records, and ethnographic accounts. The resulting understanding of mortuary symbolism is then used to generate hypotheses about the social significance of prehistoric-period Malibu burial patterns. Finally, bioarchaeological data on genetic relationships, health status, and activity are used to independently test artifact-based hypotheses about prehistoric Chumash social organization. Together, these independent data sources constitute strong evidence for the existence of a ranked society with a hereditary elite during the late Middle period in the Santa Barbara Channel area.

Résumé

Aunque la mayoria de los arqueologos reconocen que a través del estudio de las pràcticas de enterramiento puede obtenerse una valiosa informatión sobre las relaciones sociales de las poblaciones humanas pasadas, el determinar el significado social de unos rituales de enterramiento de naturaleza simbólica puede convertirse en una empresa arriesgada. Estas dificultades analiticas pueden resolverse en gran parte combinando informatión proveniente de un amplio espectro de fuentes de datos conceptual y metodológicamente independientes. Ilustramos esta aproximación con de informatión arqueológica proveniente de cementerios prehistóricos e históricos de Malibú, California, para explorar un aspecto controversial: ¿en qué momento las sociedades Chumash del Canal de Santa Barbara se organizaron en cacicazgos: a principios del Período Tardio, entre ca. 1200 y 1300 d.C, о а finales del Período Temprano, hace unos 2,600 años? Para responder a esta pregunta, primero establecemos el significado social de las pràcticas de enterramiento Chumash mediante la comparution de datos arqueológicos del periodo histórico con fuentes etnohistóricas y etnográficas. El simbolismo mortuorio del periodo histórico se utiliza para generar diversas hipótesis acerca del significado social de los rituales de enterramiento del periodo prehistórico de Malibú. Finalmente, se utiliza la informatión bioar-queológica acerca de las relaciones genéticas, la saludy los patrones de actividad, comofuente de datos independiente para pro-bar las hipótesis sobre la organization social del periodo prehistórico Chumash, generadas a partir de la interpretation de la cultura material. La combination de estas fuentes independientes de datos apunta hacia lapresencia de una sociedad jerárquica, con una élite hereditaria, ya bien establecida en el area del Canal de Santa Bárbara durante el Período Intermedio.

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An Integrative Approach to Mortuary Analysis: Social and Symbolic Dimensions of Chumash Burial Practices

  • Lynn H. Gamble (a1), Phillip L. Walker (a2) and Glenn S. Russell (a3)

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