Social Differentiation at the Kerniskey Site?: A Contribution to the Study of Emerging Social Complexity

Elizabeth Ramos Roca

PhD Thesis. 1999

This research is concerned with the development of social complexity among hunter-gatherer societies. Since the study of social complexity has been dominated by the paradigm that sees this development as directly associated with agricultural practices and sedentary lifestyles, social complexity in the context of hunter-gatherer adaptations has been poorly documented. Recent studies have demonstrated that, contrary to the commonly established association between social complexity, agriculture and sedentism, social complexity is also achieved in different degrees by hunter-gatherer societies. In this context the Kerniskey site, located on the south central shores of Lake Erie, northeastern Ohio, provided an excellent opportunity to investigate the interaction between subsistence practices, settlement patterns and social complexity. Documenting these aspects at the Kerniskey site allowed on the one hand, for observations about the cultural process in Whittlesey societies, and on the other hand, an improvement in our general understanding of the development of social complexity.

Inferences about subsistence strategies, settlement patterns and social complexity are based on different analysis of a corpus of data comprised of faunal remains, human burials and household data. The results of this research showed evidence of occupation by at least a semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer-fishing group with probably some type of social differentiation. This view contrast with traditional models that see the development of less mobile settlements linked to the practice of agriculture. Along the same lines, the presence of at least some minimal degree of social differentiation supports, in principle, models in which social complexity need not be linked to a particular subsistence system and does not necessarily depend on agricultural practices.