Trauma fractures and the brutality of sport: exploring evidence of gaming in the Mississippian southeast

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University of Alabama Libraries

This research speaks to the relationship between warfare and gaming as it pertains to the skeletal record. Here, gaming refers to the Native American stickball game that was the foundation for modern-day lacrosse. The Mississippian skeletal assemblages from Moundville and Koger's Island have different frequency rates of fractures. This research examines these inter-site frequencies by focusing on the relationship between site size and warfare and gaming. The protection and ample gaming space that a larger site provides suggests that individuals at these sites might have spent less time defending themselves and more time gaming. Individuals at smaller, less protected sites would have been more vulnerable to attacks and probably spent more time in battle. If this is true, Moundville, a larger site, would have a high frequency of trauma related to gaming in comparison to Koger's Island, a smaller site, which would have a high frequency of trauma related to warfare. Fractures from each site were examined and assigned a possible cause. Additional antemortem and perimortem factors were also considered when determining whether trauma was gaming or warfare related. The results indicate that while Moundville did present with a higher frequency of fractures related to warfare, there was no statistical difference between the two sites in regard to fracture location and type. Future research will incorporate multiple lines of evidence, including the stories and radiographs of modern Native American ballplayers, to understand even more clearly the risks involved in playing the ancient game.

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