M.A. Theses: Rick J. Schulting, 1994

An Investigation of Mortuary Variability and Socioeconomic Status Differentiation on the Northwest Plateau

The purpose of this thesis is to examine Plateau mortuary data from the perspective of socioeconomic status differentiation. Published and unpublished data from a large number of sites on both the Columbia Plateau and the Canadian Plateau are considered. The main emphasis is on the differential distribution of grave inclusions, since this appears to provide the most meaningful and accessible expression of socioeconomic status inequality in the study area. Ethnographic data regarding the level of status inequality as expressed in both the living community and in burial practices are also summarised. The results indicate a varying degree of inequality in the various Plateau groups; in no case, however, can a group be characterised as purely egalitarian. A number of patterns are identified in the archaeological mortuary data. For example, some artifact classes, for the most part utilitarian in function, are found to be associated with different age and sex classes. In some areas, different forms of burial appear to be associated with higher socioeconomic status, while in other areas this relationship is unclear.

Lorenz curves and Gini indices are employed to quantify the degree of inequality present in the various assemblages, and tests are developed to address the statistical significance of the observed differences. Regional differences in inequality were difficult to examine due to inadequate sample size and the absence of dates for the assemblages. However, an analysis of overall grave artifact richness and "wealth" indicate changing relationships between the late prehistoric and the protohistoric periods. The earlier middle prehistoric period (ca. 4000 to 2000 B.P.), although poorly represented in the available data, appears to indicate significantly less inequality in the distribution of grave inclusions than later periods. The late prehistoric and protohistoric periods appear to exhibit similar levels of socioeconomic differentiation. Thus, the mortuary data appear to support a model of increasing socioeconomic inequality after ca. 2000 B.P. This is independently supported by settlement data, elaboration of material culture, and artistic styles, all of which appear to show an increase in complexity at roughly the same time and over a large area encompassing most or all of the Plateau as well as parts of the Northwest Coast.

Neither the ethnographic nor the archaeological mortuary data support an egalitarian model for the Plateau. The differential distribution of grave inclusions indicated an unequal access to exotic prestige and wealth items.