An Analysis of Nacreous Shell Artifacts During the Early Agricultural Period in the Tucson Basin

Date

2023

Authors

Burke, June A. D.

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Abstract

The diverse amount of shell material recorded from the Early Agricultural period (2100 BC to 50 AD) of the Tucson Basin has been recognized since the 1990s for its unusually high content of nacreous shell (Huckell 1993; Virden-Lange 2015). Current theories postulate that nacreous shell was primarily obtained from trade connections to a shell-manufacturing tradition in central California (Virden-Lange 2015). However, whether nacreous shell's presence was purely due to chance or if nacreous shell was specifically being actively used and, possibly, valued by the residents of the Tucson Basin is still unknown. This study sought out to address this gap in our knowledge in order to better understand how these early farmers practiced ritual, constructed systems of value, and conducted exchange to facilitate those systems and practices. To investigate this, I conducted chi-square and Fisher's exact tests on the various shell assemblages recorded from a total of 17 sites dated to the Early Agricultural period that compared nacreous and non-nacreous shells across eight types of contexts and 26 stylistic forms in order to see if either shell material was found more or less frequently in any context or form. The results from these tests suggest that nacreous shell material was used and valued independently, with clear connections to mortuary practices. Additionally, these results reaffirm previous hypotheses on the origin of nacreous shell in the Tucson Basin. Finally, these tests indicate that these observations were not consistent across the study region, possibly suggesting regional differences in trade connections or cultural practices.

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Keywords

Early Agricultural Period, nacreous shell, ritual systems, shell jewelry, Southwest, Tucson Basin

Citation

Department

Anthropology