Transforming the Dead is a collection of essays that examines culturally modified human bones and their roles as cultural and ritual objects among prehistoric Midwest cultures. Previous scholarship has explored the roles of human body parts in Native American cultures as trophies of war and revered ancestors. This collection discusses new evidence that human elements were also important components of daily and ritual activities across the Eastern Woodlands. The contributors to this volume discuss each case study within the unique temporal and regional contexts of the material, rather than seeking universal ansHargrave Coverwers to how these objects were used.

Most research addressing modified human bone has focused on cut marks and trauma associated with warfare, trophy taking, and burial practices. The editors and contributors of Transforming the Dead document the varied and often overlooked ways that human bone was intentionally modified through drilling, incising, cutting, and polishing for utilitarian, ornamental, spiritual, or ritual use. Examples include bracelets and gorgets to be worn, as well as rasp-like instruments, pipe stems, masks, and protective talismans. The form and function of these objects are not unusual, but it is their construction from the remains of “another” that sets them apart.

Through a flexible but systematic analysis of the archaeological record, the contributors bring into focus how the careful selection, modification, and retention of particular bones or body parts of an individual after death offer insights into concepts of personhood, the body, life, and death among the prehistoric Native Americans in the Midwest.


Eve A. Hargrave is a public engagement coordinator and skeletal biologist at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and coauthor of Recent Investigations into the Late Prehistoric Mortuary Behavior: The Halliday Site. Shirley J. Schermer is a former director of the Burials Program for the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist and author of Discovering Archaeology: An Activity Guide for Educators. Kristin M. Hedman is an associate director of the Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials Program and skeletal biologist at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and coauthor of Hill Prairie Mounds: The Osteology of a Late Middle Mississippian Mortuary Population. Robin M. Lillie is a skeletal biologist for the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist Burials Program and coauthor of Dubuque’s Forgotten Cemetery: Excavating a Nineteenth-century Burial Ground in a Twenty-first-century City.


Transforming the Dead persuasively shows that human bone was used in everyday life and special rituals in prehistoric Native American culture. No other book on the market presents what these authors have.”
–Keith P. Jacobi, author of Last Rites for the Tipu Maya: Genetic Structuring in a Colonial Cemetery

Transforming the Dead encourages its readers to think in a broader perspective–outside of western normative dualities like life and death, the physical world, and the spiritual world.”
–Debra L. Martin, coauthor of Bioarchaeology: An Integrated Approach to Working with Human Remains and coeditor of Bioarchaeological and Forensic Perspectives on Violence: How Violent Death is Interpreted from Skeletal Remains


Trade Cloth
6 X 9, 384 pp
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1861-1 Cloth
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8809-6 Ebook
Price: $69.95