By Helen C. Rountree
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Additional resources for Before and After Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors
One thing we can safely say about conflicts during the Late Woodland period: they would have been conducted on a small scale. Small populations don’t have enough personnel to spend them freely in military endeavors. 12, with its views of masses of Indians attacking a few Europeans, goes against both Indian logic and English colonists’ accounts of the usual native method of fighting. That method was guerilla warfare, a kind of competition that better allowed for the individual shows of prowess that the Powhatans are known to have valued among their people.
There are no pictures of skeletons in this book, in deference to the feelings of the Indian people with whom the authors, especially Rountree, work. But skeletons, once dug and analyzed and before being reburied, can tell us many things about the lives of the people they represent. Skeletal analyses can puncture some historical stereotypes about the Virginia Indians. Stable isotopes in bones can tell us whether the people were eating much corn or living mainly on wild foods—that is, whether they were settled or nomadic.
There are many primary burials, in which the corpse was placed directly in a shallow grave, usually in the vicinity of a house. Other bodies were given a secondary, or two-part, disposal. If not initially buried, the body was wrapped to keep out predators and kept aboveground until only (or mainly) bones were left. Then, on a certain day every few years, all the local families that had lost members gathered up their relatives’ bones, cleaned them if necessary, put them into bundles, and placed the bundles in an ossuary, or common grave, that had been opened for the occasion.