Thursday, April 5, 2012

War/Violence in the SouthWest

Turner II, Christy G. and Turner Jacqueline A.
First Claim for Cannibalism in the Southwest: Walter Hough's 1901 Discovery at Canyon Butte Ruin 3, Northeastern Arizona
American Antiquity, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 661-682
This article assesses the earliest known archaeological claim for prehistoric cannibalism in the
Southwest,  made by Hough based on his 1901 excavation Canyon Butte Ruin 3 in northeastern Arizona. Hough believes that the Anasazi multiple-burial sites in this area suggest violence and cannibalism. The three cases of possible prehistoric cannibalism in this area come from La Plata River Valley, Patayan Site, & House of Tragedy. The evidence given includes a large Pueblo III corrugated jar filled with broken skulls, bones around fire pit that were fire cracked and broken. While it is not really explained why they were thought to be victims of cannibalism beyond the context of where they were found and the extent of damage to the remains and some remains suggest merely warfare, not cannibalism. In fact, some of the “evidence” for cannibalism seems to be more to use bones for ceremonial purposes, not for consumption purposes. It also is not in Hough’s favor that he seems to have been selective in what bones he sent in to prove his point. If bones were too damaged or too young, he either kept or discarded them.
However, there is also evidence that does seem to suggest  Canyon Butte 3and other Anasazi multiple burials suspected of  butchering for consumption purposes rather than for strictly ritual or magical purposes, such as murdering and dismembering witches, enemies, or social deviants. Extraction of marrow is likely to  have been the objective of breaking up the vertebrae as well as the long bones. Supporting this hypothesis is evidence of charring, roasting, flesh stripping. The burning pattern is not that of cremation which further suggests the possibility of the flesh of the person actually being cooked. The motivation behind this possible cannibalism is however, unknown. It could have been emergency cannibalism to survive starvation, ritual purposes, or results of warfare and conflict. The special and physical characteristics of these burials seem to suggest warfare and conflict, however the evidence of flesh stripping and marrow extraction suggests the presence of cannibalism.
In the end, the possibility of cannibalism in pre-historic southwest is still present, but inconclusive. There is definite evidence of heavy violence, but whether or not the people in these burials were victims of cannibalism, and if so, for what purposes, is near impossible to discern with what little evidence is left in the archaeological record.

Walker, William H.
 Where Are the Witches of Prehistory? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 245-308
This article discusses the problems with trying to identify ritual violence (i.e. against witches) in the archaeological record. With the record being able to show the ample evidence of things like torture, killing and mutilation, one would think evidence of ritual violence would be easily present as well. The problem here is that often times, ritual items are near indiscernible from everyday objects as these seemingly ordinary objects would be used in sympathetic magic in places that their utilitarian counterparts might be found as well.  However, the central issue is not that some objects or persons have practical uses and some do not. After all, there are some spectacular artifacts and assemblages of artifacts whose uses are almost exclusively for esoteric ceremonies along with more utilitarian-looking objects used for such purposes as well. The issue is that all too often archaeologists assume that practical-looking objects were not used in ritual activities. Another question posed by violence of witchcraft in prehistoric societies, is not how to identify such an individual in the archaeological record, but why such atrocious, violent acts were committed against them if they were believed to have the power to help the society with their supposed supernatural abilities and knowledge?
One possibility behind such violence towards people who practiced sympathetic magic would be that in societies where everything from rain for crops to healing the sick and communicating with the dead was controlled by ritual practitioners, these practices and practitioners generated fear, suspicion, and persecution. After all, the same powers harnessed today to heal maybe used to injure tomorrow. Those who can bring rain can also bring floods or cause droughts. People need protection from, and often desire vengeance against, those wielding such supernatural power.
Unfortunately, unmasking the correlation between such people and such acts will remain incomplete as long as the ritual aspects of warfare, homicide, murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, and shamanism go unrecognized in the archaeological record. An archaeologist might see a high record of violence, murder and warfare, but not know the true cause of such behavior within this past society, including the possibility of ritualized violence/death. So until it becomes possible to discern more accurately, the motivations behind deaths in past peoples, it will be largely impossible to know for sure how people with supposed supernatural abilities were viewed and treated. Were they revered, or feared?


  1. The article you The article you cover by Turner II et al. reminded me of the one I covered by Bullock. Your article puts forth the idea that there is still this chance of cannibalism and seems to be trying to convince people of the idea that Anasazi were cannibals? That's the feeling I got from it anyway. Bullock's article is actually trying to put down this idea and show that it was more likely than not, merely the aftermath of war and violence, but that there is the possibility that there could have been ritualistic reasons behind the evidence found from humans actually going at the bones and breaking/cooking them. I found it pretty interesting that your article seems to lean towards the idea that they really were cannibals.

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

  2. I also read an article on Pueblo III cannibalism in the Southwest. The location of this site was in Mancos Canyon in southwestern Colorado. At this site, nearly all of the bones were broken apart, many in the same manner, by using a twisting/prying force, which causes the bones to all demonstrate the same type of spiral patterned breaks, with splintered ends. The bones were most likely broken apart so as to get to the nutrient rich bone marrow, just as your article mentions. Also like in your article, all of the bones at this site demonstrate evidence for fire exposure, most likely for cooking purposes, because none of the bones were fired long enough to cause cremation. One factor that makes these two sites different though, is the fact that the most likely cause for cannibalism at the Mancos Canyon site is that of emergency ration needs. This is the conclusion because there is no evidence suggesting any type of conflict or violence, because all of the breaks/cuts/etc. to the bones were done post-mortem, and none of the individuals show signs of a violent death, so we can conclude that warfare and violence were not the cause for cannibalism of these remains. We can also most likely rule out magico-religious reasons due to the fact that cannibalism does not seem to be a regular practice for this site, as well as the absence of any type of religious symbols in the area.

    Nickens, Paul R.
    1975 Prehistoric Cannibalism in the Mancos Canyon, Southwestern Colorado. Kiva. 40.4:283-293

  3. I read the same article about finding the witches of pre-history, and found it fascinating. I focused on the religious aspect of such practices. One thing that I found very interesting was the claim that the author made that ritual and violence are often intertwined and related. They pointed to several examples across the globe, including inter-village warfare among the peoples of the Southwest. The link between violence and religion is one that is often ignored, and I think it is probably difficult to locate in the archaeological record-- but it is there, and the author of this article did a good job of pointing that out.

    Walker, William H.
    1998 Where are the Witches of Prehistory? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 5:245-308