With National Science Foundation support, the FARM (Fort Ancient Regional Movement) Project, under the direction of Dr. Robert Cook and a team of colleagues, will gather key data for understanding the development of human societies at interregional scales. This is a problem as relevant to our multiethnic world today as in the archaeological past.

The project focuses on determining if, when, and how migration from neighboring regions factored into local Fort Ancient developments in southwest Ohio, a long-standing problem in the prehistory of the Midwest U.S. but with methodological structure of general appeal to many world regions. The project contributes to broader issues on frontiers and cross-boundary flows that have received relatively little attention. Frontier zones at the edges of complex systems (e.g., Mississippian, Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia) have often been relegated to the status of passive receivers of culture from core areas. However, recently archaeologists have become interested in such boundary dynamics. Unlike earlier approaches, however, researchers are now addressing frontier zones as culturally rich and socially dynamic places where social actors make key decisions about long-distance interaction and new hybrid formations are often the result.

The theoretical focus recognizes that interregional population movements and interactions are key contributors to the blurry nature of cultural boundaries. The general anthropological significance of the project is to move interregional studies forward by focusing on data relevant to these dimensions, providing key information to then examine why such moves occurred. The key data to be gathered pertain to the proveniencing of human remains. This will be accomplished by temporally examining the strontium content of tooth enamel in a biological and mortuary framework for a sample of individuals from eleven villages.

The project will have broader impacts in education, both in university settings and for the general public. Undergraduate and graduate anthropology students will benefit by being trained in lab analyses, resulting in undergraduate honors and graduate level theses. Specific activities for artifact analyses will include basic examination of pottery, projectile points, gorgets, and pipes, including functional, stylistic, and temporal attributes as appropriate to the project. Specific activities for human remains will be to assist in strontium sampling. All student participants will also be mentored during a day-long career workshop in partnership with the Dayton Society of Natural History. The project will also have broader impacts in educating the general public about the types of questions that are answerable with archaeological data, and particularly the high research utility of extant museum collections. By promulgating data about these collections, the project will illustrate the importance of properly curated materials. Additionally, future research projects on the Fort Ancient collections investigated in the present study will benefit from having more solid chronological frames of reference.

Project Report

examined the development of agricultural villages in relation to interregional interactions. This is a long-standing problem of general anthropological interest. The geographic focus was the Fort Ancient culture in the Middle Ohio Valley, and the key research questions focused on whether neighboring Mississippian peoples were present in the Fort Ancient region, whether Fort Ancient people journeyed to those areas, and how these moves relate to the development of social systems within particular Fort Ancient villages. To address these questions, biodistance and chemical analyses of human burials were conducted within refined temporal contexts. Biological variation was examined using biodistance analysis. Results from chemical analyses, particularly for strontium (Sr87/Sr86), support non-local origins for individuals at some sites. The two data sets (biodistance and chemical) provide a powerful combination for elucidating movements, particularly in situations where the resolution of strontium did not allow for such discernment. In brief, it appears that male village authorities that were interred with exotic Mississippian artifacts (e.g., large chert knives, whelk shell pendants) are non-local to their site population (based on biodistance analyses) in all cases for which we have adequate data (n=2). However, on the basis of strontium, they do not appear to be from outside of the region (unfortunately, this is often difficult to assess due to similar chemical signatures). It appears that local aggrandizers established their authority in non-natal villages, their powers being legitimized through employment of non-local symbols and the incorporation of outsiders in various ways (e.g., marriage, captives). A variety of models can be used to account for what strongly appears to be the codevelopment of Fort Ancient and Mississippians, such as "periphery peer", "events", or "tribalization". It appears that the interactions involved the codevelopment of village structuring and status markers. The chronology of the sample sites has been considerably improved and many individuals of interest have been directly dated. We can now confidently conclude that the Early Fort Ancient period (ca. A.D. 1000-1200) contains large villages that are the most dependent on maize. Also, direct dating of many maize specimens revealed considerable diversity of cob rows as maize consumption became commonplace and fits well with movement of people from multiple areas. There is also a regular pattern of reusing earlier monuments that were initially constructed during Middle and Late Woodland times. Additionally, it has long been known that these Fort Ancient villages contain numerous Mississippian artifacts that were assumed to be late arrivals (ca. A.D. 1400). We now know that these items were present at the dawn of the Fort Ancient tradition. We have also refined our understanding of extant pottery and projectile point typologies. There are three broader impacts stemming from the FARM project. First, we now better understand the role of individuals in changing lifeways that accompany the spread of agricultural systems. Second, we have considerably improved the utility of several existing museum collections by better contextualizing them in time and space. Third, key data sets focused on biodistance, chemical analyses, and chronology were produced that are being used by two doctoral students, one masters student, and one undergraduate honors student.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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Ohio State University
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