Abstract

Large ceramic vessels used as burial urns occasionally have been found in Late Mississippian/protohistoric contexts in Alabama and Mississippi. Ethnohistorical documents suggest that large vessels were used for cooking in a domestic context. A systematic examination of three urns from east-central Mississippi shows multiple uses prior to their final deposition with burials. Vessel size analysis of a temporal sequence of sherds from midden contexts used sherd thickness and curvature data to show that large vessels became more common. Three explanations are examined to better understand the use of large vessels during this time: bet hedging, costly signaling, and changing technology. The results confirm the use of burial urns in domestic contexts before their final use as interment containers, making technological change the most viable of the three hypotheses.

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