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Bioarchaeological Evidence for Social Maturation in the Mortuary Ritual of Ipiutak and Tigara Hunter-Gatherers: Lifespan Perspectives on the Emergence of Personhood at Point Hope, Alaska

  • Lauryn C. Justice (a1) and Daniel H. Temple (a1)

Abstract

Identity is a concept that shifts over the lifespan in association with relational interactions. This study documents and interprets the cultural systems influencing shifts in identity during maturation in hunter-gatherers from Point Hope, Alaska through archaeological mortuary practices. Grave goods, body position, body orientation, and burial depth (underground versus surface) were recorded for Ipiutak (1500–1100 BP) and Tigara (800–400 BP) cultures. Age was estimated using tooth formation. No age differences in burial depth were found, likely reflecting environmental constraints. Changes in body orientation, body position, and grave-good allocation were found between three and four years with another increase in grave-good allocation after age six. A larger age range of individuals without grave goods was found at Tigara. Changes in bodily orientation and position likely reflect beliefs surrounding the soul. The initial presence of animal implements may represent gifting of amulets, while increases in these items at later ages indicate continued maturation. Differences in the age ranges of individuals without animal implements between the two sites may reflect stronger delineations of social prestige at Ipiutak. These findings hint at the complex relational pathways associated with the formation of identity in prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities.

El objetivo de este estudio es documentar e interpretar los sistemas culturales que influyeron en las prácticas mortuorias durante el desarrollo en Point Hope, Alaska. Se registraron ofrendas funerarias, orientación de los cuerpos y profundidad de los entierros de las culturas Ipiutak (1500-1100 aP) y Tigara (800-400 aP). La orientación del cuerpo se definió con base en la dirección de la cabeza en la tumba. Las ofrendas funerarias incluyen implementos animales (i.e., restos de animales y materiales elaborados para parecerse a animales). Las designaciones de arriba (menor de 50 cm) e abajo (mayor de 50 cm) indican la profundidad del enterramiento. Las edades se estimaron analizando la formación de los dientes. No se encontraron diferencias de edad en los entierros con base en la profundidad, lo que posiblemente refleja limitaciones medioambientales. Se observaron cambios específicos relacionados con la edad en la posición y orientación del cuerpo y la presencia de implementos animales. Los cambios son discernibles entre los 3 y 4 años de edad, con otro aumento en la presencia de implementos animales entre los 6 y 7 años. Los cambios en la orientación del cuerpo probablemente reflejan creencias relacionadas con la vulnerabilidad y la reencarnación. La presencia inicial de implementos animales puede representar el obsequio de amuletos ligados con el surgimiento de la personalidad, mientras que el aumento en estos artículos en edades posteriores puede reflejar maduración creciente. Las prácticas mortuorias cambiantes en relación con el desarrollo son consistentes con los aspectos filosófico-religiosos y ontológicos de la identidad reflejados en el ritual de la muerte.

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(dtemple3@gmu.edu, corresponding author)

References

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Bioarchaeological Evidence for Social Maturation in the Mortuary Ritual of Ipiutak and Tigara Hunter-Gatherers: Lifespan Perspectives on the Emergence of Personhood at Point Hope, Alaska

  • Lauryn C. Justice (a1) and Daniel H. Temple (a1)

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