Thursday, April 5, 2012

Southwestern Burials


Bullock, Peter Y. 1991. A Reappraisal of Anasazi Cannibalism. Kiva. 57:5-16

                The Anasazi are thought to have cannibalized their dead. The physical evidence for this is human skeletal remains occurring in an extremely fragmentary condition, which are often found in unexpected contexts. A good portion of the article talks about the various degrees to which the remains have suffered fracture or breaks of some type, some while the person must still be alive.  Other parts of the article talk about warfare being the cause of the skeletal mutilation rather than cannibalism. Cut marks on bone, especially when the person was still alive, does not necessarily point to the Anasazi being cannibals, however fascinating this idea might seem. The occurrence of cut marks in cases where cannibalism is known to not have taken place indicates other causes, such as ritual corpse mutilation. Burnt bone remains, while possibly indicative of cannibalism does not mean that this is the only possibility. Perhaps it could have been an attempt at crude cremation.  
                We have a very limited view of the burial practices of the Anasazi. This could contribute to the whole cannibalism idea. Their burials, in general, were primary. These occurred in a variety of positions. The secondary burials were exhumed primary burials. There is a record of 42 individuals in primary burials, 16 in secondary burials, 2 in cremations, and 4 in an 'unknown' or 'other' category. Bodies of warfare victims might have been collected after they decomposed and buried. This type of secondary burial with exposure was found at the Crow Creek site. Other sites also indicate this. Exposure with secondary burial could account for the pits of fragmented bone, as well as others. A variation on this could be the occasional repots of human bone found inside pots. The bones could have been collected and placed in the pots or other containers, and the whole thing could be buried together. There is a number of infants and small children that are buried within bowls that were recovered at Hawikuh, indicating that the concept of burial within a container is not entirely unknown. Really, this just shows how little we actually know of the Anasazi burial and mortuary practices and that perhaps, we have jumped to conclusions. 

Potter, James M. and Perry, Elizabeth M. 2011 Mortuary Features and Identity Construction in an Early Village Community in the American Southwest. American Antiquity. 76:529-546

                This article talks about the Pueblo I period (A.D. 750-900). It more or less focuses on the San Juan River area in the northern area of the Southwest. In early village contexts, mortuary features were an important element. Mortuary rituals and activities create meaning, memories, and identities for those who experience and participated in them . "Mortuary features are not only monuments to the identity of the interred but also to those who participated in the interment. Those who claim association with the interred and those who continue to live in proximity to the grave. Because of this, the mortuary feature embodies the intersection of an individual's many forms of identity (e.g., the age at death, gender, status, wealth, religion, and ethnicity) and the identities of the group(s) to which the individual belonged, as patterning amount these features can also inform on the beliefs of, and resources available to, those who interred the deceased and the organization of the larger group comprising these individuals."
                In the Ridge Basin sites, three pit houses contained human remains. These were burned and articulated remains. It is suggested that these individuals were trapped when the structure was burned. It's also thought that the individual found in association with two projectile points and remnants of a feather and yucca blanket were  found, was killed while he was asleep. Five other individuals found nearby indicate violence, their remains not formal burials. There was also a massacre of a larger proportion at Sacred Ridge. Thirty-five individuals were uncovered.
                One hundred and twelve burials in the Ridges Basin occurred in extramural contexts, including midden areas. All of this aside, the burial contexts were varied among sex and age groups. Adult females were more often than not found in pit structure fill than the adult males were. Young adults and sub adults were found more often in extramural non-midden areas, than their adult counterparts.  It is suggested by the authors that the adults had achieved a higher status on the community than the sub adults had.
                Not all the graves found were associated with features that had previously been sued for other purposes. These graves were constructed as shallow, oval or sub rectangular, basin-shaped earthen pits. All of these bodies, excluding one, was flexed ro semi-flexed. There were no differences that marked the adult males or females in their placement and orientation. The sub adults were more often placed on their sides and oriented to the north than the adults were.
                The adult females had the most diverse assemblage of pottery vessels. Some of these ceramic items indicate either that the female came from another area, or that the vessel came by trade. A burial contained a neck-banded jar and  obsidian artifacts (all from Jemez Mountains, roughly 100 miles away). Five other adults had numerous olivella shell beads, obsidian items, and faunal bone pendants. The beads and bone pendants were lacking among the males.  The shells are exotic, originating in the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean.
                The adult males were mostly buried in middens and were found with imported redware pottery vessels, minerals and crystals, bone tools, and ground stone items, such as manos and metates. The pottery shows exchange with others. The minerals and crystals included: quarts, turquoise, hemattie, azurite, and fossil items.
                The young adults (sub adults) had fewer grave goods. Most of these were locally made items, such as Rosa Black-on-white bowls and grayware jars.
                Why does this matter? It matters because, the evidence that I have presented, along with more found in the article (architectural and biodistance data), suggests that more than one cultural or ethnic group lived here in the Ridges Basin Pueblo I community. Three variables that strongly suggest that there were fundamental differences in the mortuary practices are: context of interment, orientation of interment, and grave good types.
                In the western subregion, the burials were associated with pit structure floors. The eastern burials occurred in extramural contexts. The eastern burials all occurred in a midden or extramural. The western sites held burials in pit structure and bench contexts. The western orientation was to the north, northwest, or northeast. The eastern sites held south-oriented interments. The eastern burials held ceramic vessels and shell and faunal bone artifacts, particularly fox mandible pendants. The western burials contained an inordinate amount of minerals and crystals, mostly turquoise and quartz crystals derived from a single burial. All the rare ceramic items were found in the eastern/central sites. The western had none.
                So called "Rich Burials" held more than five items, or contained four or more items, at least one of which was unique or of rare material type, such as quartz crystal, olivella shell, or jet. Eight of twelve female burials were rich, as compared to the males and sub adult burials. Rich female burials held abundant shell and fauna; males had turquoise and quartz. All rich burials held ceramic vessels (excluding one). The fact that they had shell, quartz, obsidian, minerals, turquoise and faunal items is what made them rich. Male burials were found in the western basin, whereas the females were found in the eastern/central sites. Iti s thought that these grave goods more symbolize personal identity and gender rather than social rank.  Then why is there a difference in the amount of gender burials? One possibility is that females were considered more important in the eastern/central areas, whereas males were the important ones ni the western sites. Another possibility brought up is that, perhaps females adorned themselves more in life, or were adorned more lavishly in death, than females in the western sites.
                We can see a direct tie between physical attributes of sex and gender identity. The identity of aspiring leaders, or important individuals, and the groups to which they belonged and which they represented, appear to have been grounded in daily gendered practice and embodied and elaborated in terms of biological sex, rather than in institutionalized metaphors.  The authors suggest that gendered and ethnic identities in these early communities were meaningful band linked because both are infused with certain physically experienced realities in the form of observable, external signs of sex and phenotypic characteristics of relatedness. That these identities from and captured by the body, take shape in material manifestations of culture - most notably, in burial features - the intersection of the physical body and its creations.

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