Early metal use and crematory practices in the American Southeast

Matthew C. Sanger, Mark A. Hill, Gregory D. Lattanzi, Brian D. Padgett, Clark Spencer Larsen, Brendan J. Culleton, Douglas J. Kennett, Laure Dussubieux, Matthew F. Napolitano, Sébastien Lacombe, David Hurst Thomas

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22 Scopus citations


Long-distance exchange of copper objects during the Archaic Period (ca. 8000–3000 cal B.P.) is a bellwether of emergent social complexity in the Eastern Woodlands. Originating from the Great Lakes, the Canadian Maritimes, and the Appalachian Mountains, Archaic-age copper is found in significant amounts as far south as Tennessee and in isolated pockets at major trade centers in Louisiana but is absent from most of the southeastern United States. Here we report the discovery of a copper band found with the cremated remains of at least seven individuals buried in the direct center of a Late Archaic shell ring located in coastal Georgia. Late Archaic shell rings are massive circular middens thought to be constructed, in part, during large-scale ritual gatherings and feasting events. The exotic copper and cremated remains are unique in coastal South Carolina and Georgia where Archaic-age cremations are conspicuously absent and no other Archaic copper objects have been reported. Elemental data produced through laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry shows the copper originated from the Great Lakes, effectively extending Archaic copper exchange almost 1,000 km beyond its traditional boundaries. Similarities in mortuary practices and the presence of copper originating from the Great Lakes reveal the presence of long-distance exchange relations spanning vast portions of the eastern United States and suggest an unexpected level of societal complexity at shell ring localities. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that elite actors solidified their positions through ritual gatherings and the long-distance exchange of exotic objects during the Archaic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E7672-E7679
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 14 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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