Bioarchaeological evidence for matrilineal descent in a 13th century Native American village

Author(s): Donna Boyd; Terry Melton; Charles Boyd

Year: 2015


The 13th Century Late Woodland Shannon site (44MY8), located near Blacksburg in Montgomery County, Virginia, was excavated in the 1960s. Excavations identified palisade lines, several circular structures, refuse-filled pits, and over 130 burials. Most burials were single, primary interments located around structures or between structures and palisade lines. Researchers have assumed that individuals buried close to one another around structures were genetically related, or at least shared clan affiliations. Recent mitochondrial DNA analysis of 11 adults from the site (7 males and 4 females) illustrates burial practices generally reflective of a matrilineal descent system. Two sets of male and female maternally-related individuals were buried in close proximity with similarities in grave goods. This possibly reflects the avuncular support relationship between a woman, her children, and her brother. In contrast, three other maternally-related adult males are buried in clusters of burials separate from one another. This may reflect matrilocal postmarital residence. However, rigid spatial segregation of interred individuals by age or with distinctive grave goods is not evident. This suggests that the Shannon site and other comparable Late Woodland villages in Southwest Virginia represent decentralized, sociopolitically autonomous matrilineal communities.

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Bioarchaeological evidence for matrilineal descent in a 13th century Native American village. Charles Boyd, Terry Melton, Donna Boyd. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397568)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -91.274; min lat: 24.847 ; max long: -72.642; max lat: 36.386 ;