“Previous archaeological and osteological (bone) studies have strongly indicated that cannibalistic episodes took place in the prehistoric Southwest, but the evidence has been essentially circumstantial. “Now, we’ve identified biochemical remains of human tissue in a coprolite, which is the term used for prehistoric human feces,” Billman said. “Analysis of the coprolite, and associated remains, at last provides definitive evidence for sporadic cannibalism in the Southwest.”
* human blood residue on two stone tools used in butchering
* human myoglobin, which could only come from human muscle, in the human excrement and on a cooking pot.
* cutmarks and charring on human bones, including skulls, entirely consistent with food preparation.
* no evidence of other mammals, corn or other vegetable matter in the coprolite, which suggested that other food was unavailable.
Along with other researchers, they have identified 18 occurrences of cannibalism, nine of which occurred between about AD 1150 and 1200 in the Mesa Verde area. Once environmental conditions improved after 1200, there is little indication of cannibalism in the Southwest.
“Unlike cultures in New Guinea and Fiji, historic Puebloan people and other Native Americans in the Southwest did not practice cannibalism,” Billman said. “Somehow or other, they figured out a way of stopping this form of terroristic violence. One of the reasons modern Puebloan people object so strenuously to our talking about this is that they have extreme taboos against cannibalism, and it’s about the worst thing you can do in their society.” Cannibalism has occurred in a wide range of societies for a wide variety of reasons, including starvation, ancestor worship and political terrorism, the scientist wrote.
“With presentation of the first direct evidence of cannibalism in the American Southwest in the prehistoric era, we hope that the debate will shift from the question of whether or not cannibalism occurred to questions concerning the social context, causes and consequences of these events.”
This information is documented in several different journals, in case you thought this was fringe science by someone with an agenda. And, I dunno, weirder things have happened.
The remains of 12 people were discovered at the site, designated 5MT10010, but only five were from burials. The other seven appear to have been systematically dismembered, defleshed, their bones battered, and in some cases burned or stewed, leaving them in the same condition as bones of animals used for food. Cut marks, fractures, and other stone-tool scars were present on the bones, and the light color of some suggests stewing. Patterns of burning indicate that many were exposed to flame while still covered with flesh, which is what would be expected after cooking over a fire.
Patricia Lambert of Utah State University and Brian Billman and Banks Leonard of Soil Systems, the contract archaeology firm that excavated 5MT10010, propose that cannibalism was associated with violent conflict between Anasazi communities in the mid-1100s, contemporary with a period of drought and the collapse of the Chaco system. They note a sharp increase in evidence of cannibalism between 1130 and 1150, followed in each case by the abandonment of the site, then a decrease in the early 1200s as the climate improved.
And in case you want a long-form writeup:
In 1993, archaeologists made a major theoretical advancement by showing strong archaeological evidence of customary cannibalism in the American Southwest. A husband and wife team, Christy and Jacqueline Turner, analyzed hundreds of sites over the span of decades in the Anasazi cultural region and found that sites with strong evidence of cannibalism were not randomly distributed. Instead, the sites were exclusively located within the Anasazi culture area—none in the surrounding regions despite those regions having “more severe winters [which] should have produced some cannibalized assemblages if starvation had been the primary cause.” Moreover, survival-cannibalism could not explain why the bodies uncovered by Turner and Turner were so battered and beaten—the markings indicating torture-like trauma. With starvation-cannibalism ruled out, customary cannibalism became heavily inferred. Turner and Turner solidify this inference by turning to the historical record and showing that this outcropping of cannibalism was likely spurred by the spread of Aztec culture in the form of immigrants flowing north and following a “warrior-cultist tradition.”
The Turners also wrote Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for lunch.
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