Mortuary Patterns

The Fredricks site burials are described individually under Archaeological Contexts (see Main Menu). To go directly to a burial context, click on one of the following: Burial 1, Burial 2, Burial 3, Burial 4, Burial 5, Burial 6, Burial 7, Burial 8, Burial 9, Burial 10, Burial 11, Burial 12, Burial 13, Burial 14, and Burial 27. Below is a discussion of mortuary patterns as reflected by the first nine burials (Burials 1-9) excavated within the village cemetery.

Although there were differences in the content and complexity of fill in these burial pits, some attributes were shared. In all but one case, there was an upper zone of brown loamy soil that contained relatively large amounts of animal bone, charred plant remains, pottery, and other refuse. This zone sometimes extended across the entire top surface of the pit, and in most instances, it contained considerable grit and/or pebbles. In some cases, this layer was underlain by or graded into a dark grey ashy layer, which was not as rich in refuse as the upper zone. Nonetheless, there were enough differences in the fill zones of the graves to separate the pits into four groups.

Burial Group 1

The first group is represented by Burials 1, 2, and 3 (see fill profile). These pits were tightly grouped in the southeast end of the cemetery. Compared with the other burial pits, these three were rectangular and their edges were more sharply delineated. They also contained a rich dark brown loam that was usually homogeneous across the pit surface, extended to the pit edges, and had an average depth of one foot below the subsoil surface. This homogenous zone lay atop a grey ashy layer that in turn capped the typical mottled yellow burial fill.

Burial Group 2

Burials 4 and 5 comprise the second group (see fill profile). They are characterized by an upper fill zone that is slightly lighter brown in color and not as rich in refuse as the dark loamy fill of the first group. Nor was this zone homogeneous across the pit tops, as yellowish-orange clay formed a band around the pit edges. The pit outlines also were not as sharply delineated, and they were not as rectangular. The profiles of these burials show a semi-circular zone of loamy fill sloping toward the center of the pits that does not extend to the pit edges. It is instead surrounded by a mottled yellow clay collar which follows the perimeter of the pits.

Burial Group 3

The pit outlines of Group 3 burials (Burials 6, 8, and 9) were sharper than those in Group 2, but not as sharp as the first group of pits. The subsoil surface displayed a restricted zone of brown loam with orange clay present in the middle of the pits and around the edges. In profile, the brown humus formed a shallow depression that was surrounded by abundant orange clay (see fill profile). These soils sometimes overlay a fairly thick zone of brown humus that was lensed with orange clay. The latter rested on mottled orange clay burial fill.

Burial Group 4

The final category of burial fill was represented by a single burial, Burial 7. An oval stain of light brown soil mottled with yellow clay was approximately 0.6 ft thick across the top of the pit and overlay a zone of mottled orange and brown clay (see fill profile). The pit edges of Burial 7 were not distinct from the subsoil and the fill was not as rich in cultural materials as the other burials.


The different categories of burial fill may reflect somewhat different behavioral activities in the final act of covering the bodies with soil. The first group of burials, those with the most distinctive fill profiles, suggest the following sequence of events. At death, the individuals were wrapped, placed in the pits, and covered initially by fill dug from the graves. (That the bodies were wrapped is suggested by the presence of a concentration of dark humic soil immediately over and around the skeletons.) There is no evidence that a vault as described by Lawson was ever constructed. The grey ashy soil overlying the initial burial fill indicates that ashes were cleaned from hearths and deposited in the pits. In situ fire is ruled out since there is no evidence of burning on the surface of the fill. After the ashes were thrown into the graves, domestic refuse was deposited on top to complete the filling of the pits. This final layer seems to represent the remains of feasts prepared and served at the time of death. As noted earlier, many ethnohistoric accounts of eastern North American Indians describe feasts as part of burial ritual. And, in the case of the Delaware and Shawnee, there are accounts of food and sometimes fire actually being placed on new graves.

It is surprising that there is no evidence of vaults or house-like structures constructed over the burials. There was, however, a small side chamber in Burials 2 and 3. Apparently, the small chambers at the Fredricks site were used to hold perishable grave goods such as furs or cloth, which were mentioned as grave offerings several times in the ethnohistoric literature. Such materials are indicated by the fact that all of the chambers contained a mottled humic soil, similar to that surrounding the bodies, of the type that would be formed by the decay of a large amount of organic matter.

A set of behaviors different from Burial Group 1 is indicated by the fill in the pits of Groups 2 and 3. The primary differences lie in the fact that the top brown loam or humus layers contained fewer remains and were not homogeneous across the pits. In all cases, this zone(s) sloped inward toward the center of the pits and was partially or totally surrounded by mottled orange clay. In at least one instance (Burial 6), a zone of brown loam with lenses of orange clay overlay the typical mottled clay burial fill. The activities responsible for the filling of these pits are not as clear as those for the first group. More time seems to have elapsed during the filling process, as indicated by the lensing of the fill and the slumped, rather than sharp, profiles of the brown loam. A longer filling period is also indicated by the less distinct outlines of the pit walls. It almost seems as if the pits were originally only partly filled with soil added as previous layers settled. However, the last layer (brown loam) did contain refuse, although not as much as the first three burials. Perhaps the cleaning and feasting activities were delayed for a period of time after the pits were initially filled. It could be further suggested that the feasting rituals involved fewer individuals and were not as intense as those proposed for the first burial group. Three of the graves from Groups 2 and 3 did contain either ledges (Burial 4) or small side chambers (Burials 6 and 9) where organic materials had been placed.

Burial 7 contrasts markedly with the others in the simplicity of its fill. The pit was dug with a relatively deep side chamber which probably also contained organic remains such as cloth or furs. After the infant was placed in the pit, it was apparently quickly refilled, and there was little or no attendant ritual.

An examination of the associated grave goods reveals differences that parallel the spatial and fill clusters described above, and that indicate age and sex parameters. Using Brain's (1979) "acculturation index," the European artifacts were each assigned a value between 1 and 4, and the values were then totaled for each burial (Table 47). If it is assumed that the numbers and kinds of trade artifacts associated with a burial are to some extent a reflection of access to such items and indirectly of status, then Brain's index should provide a means of numerically expressing the social dimensions of burial ceremonialism. Additionally, all burial-associated artifacts, European and aboriginal, were compared as to whether they were utilitarian or ornamental (Table 48). The glass and shell beads, which, when present, were in great quantities, were compared only on a presence or absence basis. Lead shot, buttons, and nails were treated in like fashion. Thus, it was assumed that 10 beads or nails were not 10 times more important than one such item. For the beads, in particular, a large group may reflect nothing more than a single decoration on an article of clothing.

Using Brain's index, Group 1 has the highest average at 25.3, followed by Group 3 at 10.7 and Group 2 at 4.5. Group 1 also displays the highest standard deviation because of the extremely high innovative value for Burial 3, which is more than triple that of any other burial (Table 47). Although the overall burial sample is small, there appear to be clusters of artifact associations that parallel the groupings based on fill characteristics. Even if Burial 3 was removed from Group 1, the remaining burials of that group still have the highest scores on the acculturation index. The uniqueness of Group 1 is further enhanced if the large numbers of shell and glass beads are considered by total numbers rather than only by presence or absence. The burials in the other groups contained very few beads. Originally, it was thought that large numbers of beads were a characteristic of subadult burials because the beads were sewn on burial garments special to children. This still may be the case for the subadults in Group 1 (i.e., Burials 1 and 2), but Burial 8 (Group 3), also a subadult, had no associated beads, glass or shell. And in terms of fill attributes, Burial 8 was more like adult Burials 6 and 9.

There also appears to be a dichotomy of burial associations based on age. Most of the artifacts associated solely with subadults fall into the ornamental category, whereas the majority of the artifacts associated only with adults are utilitarian (see Table 48). Those utilitarian artifacts associated with subadults are not tools and are associated with activities that are not technomic in nature. Spoons, kettles, and baskets (associated with children) are used for eating and for containers, which is in sharp contrast to the gun, gun parts, hoes, and axes (associated with adults), which are used in heavy labor and subsistence-related activities. The items shared by adults and subadults, such as knives, scissors, and beads, represent activities and items that probably would be shared by both age groups.

In summary, pitfill characteristics and associated artifacts suggest that at least two levels of treatment were accorded the Fredricks site burials. The first three burials are very distinctive. The upper zone of refuse-laden soil indicates a more intense burial ritual probably having to do with ritual feasting. Apparently similar, but less intense, ceremonies were conducted for the other burials, except Burial 7.

In general, children received the most attention. Burials 1, 2, and 8 all contained large numbers of European artifacts, and Burials 1 and 2 also contained shell gorgets and numerous shell beads. Although most of the beads were probably sewn on garments, the gorgets and some of the larger beads represent deposition of individual items having sociotechnic or ideotechnic meanings. Other historic cemetery sites have also shown a pattern of large numbers of beads and shell artifacts being associated with children (e.g., Whitthoft et al. 1959:115).

Although children received much attention, neonates received almost none. Burial 7 contained only a few brass bells, and the infant associated with Burial 4 was accompanied probably by only a pewter porringer. Feature 1 probably also contained the remains of a small infant that was not accompanied by any nonperishable grave goods. The chamber of this burial, however, did contain a darker soil indicating that perishable artifacts such as blankets or furs may have been included.

Where children received elaborate treatment, Burial 3, a young adult male, contained the largest collection of burial furniture and richest upper fill of any burial in the cemetery. Burial 3, therefore, may represent the highest-ranking individual in the cemetery. Burial 6, also a young adult male, appears to have occupied a social position akin to that of Burial 3. Both contained large numbers of primarily utilitarian artifacts, probably personal property. Burial 3 contained a smoking kit, scissors, knives, gun parts, as well as a rum bottle and an iron axe head. Burial 6 contained an almost comparable array of smoking artifacts along with a musket and a large iron hoe.

In contrast with Burials 3 and 6, Burial 4, an adult male of similar age, contained very few grave associations, only a group of tubular shell beads and a rum bottle. This burial was unique in the fact that it was bundled, which suggests that the individual died away from the village. Cut marks on the skull also indicate that he died a violent death.

All of the burials within the cemetery seem either to have been made over a short interval of time or to have been precisely located by above-ground markers, or both. Only one burial pit, Burial 2, was intruded by posts which suggest they may have served as markers; however, smaller postholes were found near most of the pits. Interment over a short interval is indicated by the precise orientation of the skeletons along a northwest-southeast axis and the fact that the heads all point in the same southeastward direction. If a solar reference point was used to align the bodies, they must have been interred over a very brief period of time (cf. Gruber 1971).