At the moment, there is not much information about pregnant women from prehistoric times. However, this might just change because of one enthusiastic researcher. She hopes to make a turning point and provide us with much more data on this topic in the near future.
Forbes was the first to report that Robyn Wakefield-Murphy, a bioarchaeologist and an assistant professor of anatomy at New York Chiropractic College, examined the remains of this mysterious girl whose life was ended by four arrows. Her grave saw the light of day back in the 1950s. This discovery was a part of an excavation project in southwestern Pennsylvania, at the Shippenport Site. Unfortunately, this gravesite wasn’t carefully examined, until Wakefield-Murphy decided to give it some extra attention.
Researchers believe that the whole Shippenport area was home to the Native American Monongahela tribe, dated to around 1050 to 1635 A.D. All the findings from this site are held at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg.
The mysterious woman was found with thirty bone beads around her pelvic area and forty-four shell beads around her neck.
Wakefield-Murphy believes it’s highly probable that the woman was killed in some kind of a ritual. She might also have been taken from another tribe, or she may have ended up an unlucky victim of a raid.
The Mystery of a Monoghale Tribe Member Buried Under a Tree
Even though these theories seem credible, the assumptions will be hard to prove without DNA analysis. However, performing such a test can have destructive consequences for the Native American grave.
But another surprise was waiting to be discovered. Wakefield-Murphy discovered that the young Native American woman was not only brutally murdered, but to make things worse, she was likely pregnant at the time of the murder. Along with the woman’s body, the researchers found the remains of a twenty-four-week-old fetus.
Both of the remains were buried underneath a tree outside the village. This made archeologists raise their eyebrows since such a burial isn’t in line with typical Monongahela tradition. They would generally bury the deceased inside the village borders.
The beads present another anomaly — Monongahela did not bury their members with many grave goods. Wakefield-Murphy has a theory which might explain this mysterious burial.
In a nutshell, she assumes the strange burial might have something to do with the fact that the woman’s death was sudden and unexpected. Unfortunately, scientists don’t know much about Monongahela people. Their knowledge about the tribe’s lifestyle and customs leaves much to be desired.
Still, based on a few facts that scientists managed to gather thanks to past excavations, they concluded that the tribe inhabited certain parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia from 1050 A.D. to 1630 A.D.
The name “Monongahela” came from the researches who studied them in the 1930s. However, this wasn’t when they were discovered; scientists have known about the existence of this tribe since the 1800s; only the name emerged in 1930s.
How and Where Did the Monongahela Tribe Disappear?
The tribe was named after the Monongahela River, which stretches from Pittsburgh to northern West Virginia. Scientists are still unsure about what happened to this tribe after the European invasion, which makes them much more mysterious than other Native American groups about whom there is much more information.
The director of the California University of Pennsylvania’s anthropology program John Nes says that the scientific community still has no clue as to what exactly happened to the tribe. They relocated from this part of the state, but it is unclear where they eventually settled.
As for as the burial traditions, Monongahela usually buried their people in a place which resembled a town square, i.e., an empty space in the center of the village. Children were sometimes buried underneath the house they had lived in. But none of the tribe’s graves the researchers discovered shared the same unusual traits of the pregnant woman’s grave.
According to Wakefield-Murphy, it is possible that this unusual burial was a result of greater-than-normal grief the tribe experienced due to the sudden loss of two of their members.
Professor Wakefield-Murphy argues that researchers should look more closely at prehistoric maternal-fetal burials. Pregnancy-related deaths were certainly not a rarity, and they may have been acknowledged by some special rituals.
She encourages archeologists to search in unexpected places in order to find such graves. This is because maternal-fetal deaths were specially treated throughout history, and they often implied some deviations from the usual burial rites.
We all hope for more similar discoveries in order to shed light on the lives and deaths of these woman from the past.