NIU prof. studies Indian remains

By Peggy Keslin

An NIU laboratory recently received the skeletal remains of a number of Guale Indians excavated by an NIU anthropology professor from a Spanish mission cemetery along the coast of Georgia.

Anthropology Associate Professor Clark Larsen has been studying the mission’s burial grounds on St. Catherine’s Island for the past 10 years. His research is supported by a three-year National Science Foundation grant.

With the arrival of Europeans into the New World, Larsen said, “things went from pretty good to pretty awful” for native Americans.

The Guale remains provide evidence that colonization by the Spanish in the 16th century resulted in severe changes for native Indians.

Larsen said these changes included drastic decreases in the Guale’s population and mortality rate.

e said, “Given the lack of interest by Europeans in agricultural work, Indians associated with the missions provided the labor force necessary for the raising of crops.”

This resulted in the Guale’s economy becoming almost entirely dependent upon agriculture with a diet focused on maize, containing little protein.

Larsen said, “Moreover, the already poor soils for most of Spanish Florida were depleted further by continued settlement in the same locality.”

Larsen determined the Guale dietary changes through bone chemistry, with the help of a bone biomechanics specialist from John Hopkins University.

They found the Guale Indians had experienced increases in nonspecific bone infections and dental decay.

The study also indicated the Guale suffered harassment from the military and demands for food tribute.

Another problem was the Indians fell victim to many European diseases previously unknown in the New World, including smallpox, measles, influenza and malaria.

Larsen said, “In the late 16th century and into the first quarter of the 17th century, epidemics were responsible for a large number of deaths—in the thousands—and complete depopulation of villages in some instances.”