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Cannibalism in Chaco Canyon The charnel pit excavated in 1926 at Small House ruin by Frank H.H

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 91:421-439 (1993)
Cannibalism in Chaco Canyon: The Charnel Pit Excavated in
1926 at Small House Ruin by Frank H.H. Roberts, Jr.
CHRISTY G . TURNER I1
Department of Anthropology, Arizona State Uniuersity,
Tempe, Arizona 85287-2402
KEY WORDS
Anasazi, Bioarcheology, Taphonomy, Violence
ABSTRACT
A charnel pit that contained the disarticulated and intentionally damaged remains of eight incomplete adult and subadult Anasazi
skeletons was found and excavated in 1926 by F.H.H. Roberts, Jr., at an AD
900 ruin he named Small House, located in Chaco Canyon, northwestern New
Mexico. Damage includes extensive perimortem cranial and postcranial bone
breakage, cut marks, anvil-hammerstone abrasions, burning, many missing
vertebrae, and fragment end-polishing. Together, these six types of perimortem damage are believed to be the taphonomic signature of prehistoric Anasazi cannibalism. The possible cause of the Small House episode is discussed
within the framework of two explanatory models-random social pathology
and institutionalized social control by violent means. o 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
on Polacca Wash, northeastern Arizona, by
the late Museum of Northern Arizona archeologist,A.P. Olson (1966).The Polacca Wash
analysis showed that some of the few whole
and numerous fragmented bones had been
burned, cut, and broken open like archeological animal bone food refuse. With the aid of
carbon 14 dating of rib fragments, Hopi traditions, site location, episodic nature, population affinity assessment, comparisons
with modern animal skeletons found on the
ground surface in the region, and an absence
of gravegoods and other signs of ceremonialism, it was proposed that the Polacca Wash
human remains were the legendary massacred captives of the Hopi attack in AD 1700
on Awatovi, another Hopi village of several
hundred inhabitants. The combined periCRITERIA FOR PROPOSING ANASAZI
mortem damage and context of the Polacca
CANNIBALISM
Wash mass burial revealed three easily recThe first analysis of a Southwest Indian ognizable key taphonomic criteria (inten“burial” employing taphonomic, forensic, tional bone breakage, cutting, and burning)
and other methods (quantitative, compara- for suggesting Southwest cannibalism.
tive, chronometric, and ethnohistoric) was Since 1970, more than 40 Anasazi charnel
conducted by Turner and Morris (1970). pits or scattered room deposits of human
That study was based on the excavation of a bone with these and other taphonomic indiminimum (MNI) of 30 highly fragmented
and disarticulated individuals deposited at
Received July 9,1992; accepted March 10,1993
an isolated locality south of the Hopi villages
This article describes and discusses in a
regional context an unreported multiple human “burial” excavated in 1926 by Frank
H.H. Roberts, Jr. The burial or charnel pit is
another in a growing number of prehistoric
southwestern U.S. episodic human bone deposits with massive perimortem damage
that suggest cannibalism as determined by
taphonomic and forensic analysis (Table 1).
Before proceeding, some background on
Southwest human taphonomy studies will
help place this report in broader perspective
since most previous studies on Anasazi cannibalism and violence have been published
in regional or archeological journals, and
may not be readily available to many readers of AJPA (Except, see White, 1992).
0 1993 WILEY-LISS, INC.
422
C.G. TURNER
TABLE 1 . Published taphonomic reports on Anasazi episodic burial sites and bone deposits
evidencine Derirnortern violence and cannibalism
Site and reference
Bone
condition
Breaks
Cuts
Damage percentage
Abrasion
Burn
’
Polish
MNI
Gnaw
Pieces
no.’
~~
New Mexico
Chaco Small House (1)
Fence Lake (2)
Burnt Mesa (3)
Sambrito Village (4)
Arizona
Polacca Wash (5)
Monument Valley (6)
Ash Creek (4)
Teec Nos Pos (7)
Tragedy House (8J3
Lerow Wash (4)
Canyon Butte (9)
Colorado
Mancos Canyon
Mancos Canyon (111
Grinnell (12)
Marshview Hamlet (13)
Yellow Jacket (14)
Utah
Rattlesnake (15)
42SA12209 (16)
Summary averages
Good
Good
Good
Good
58.5
99.9
98.0
99.8
7.9
0.2
2.8
4.6
6.6
Yes
Yes
Yes
3.9
0.5
35.4
16.7
10.5
Yes
Yes
?
0.0
?
1.5
0.0
11
(5)
152
1088
3389
474
Yes
?
?
?
?
Yes
41.1
Yes
?
5.2
0.0
0.0
3.0
0.4
30
7
5
2
4
(33)
4
437
644
212
56
62
3443
248
33
29
7
6
14
1598
2106
380
528
2043
20
5015
691
1233
Good
?
Poor
Poor
Good
Good
Good
80.3
80.1
97.6
5.4
11.3
99.7
87.5
Yes
0.9
3.3
10.7
1.6
2.6
4.0
Yes
?
?
0.0
1.6
Yes
2.4
Yes
12.6
25.9
1.8
1.6
1.7
4.4
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
98.4
?
?
18.5
?
Yes
Yes
Yes
21.5
10.8
30.7
8.9
-
97.9
99.9
Yes
Yes
11.7
1.0
2.6
3.7
6.0
?
?
?
0.0
0.5
7.0
Yes
Good
Poor
Good
92.3
Yes
80.4
3.7
Yes
4.1
Yes
Yes
5.8
3.0
Yes
12.0
?
?
0.2
No
1.5
5
19.2
8
5
4
11.4
‘References: (1) This report; (2) Grant, 1989; (3) Flinn et al., 1976; (4) Turner, 1983; Fay and Klein, 1988; (5)Turner and Morris, 1970; (6)Nass
and Bellatoni, 1982; (7) Turner, 1989; ( 8 ) Turner and Turner, 1 9 9 0 (9) Turner and Turner, 1992a; (10) Nickens, 1975; (11) White, 1992; (12)
Leubben and Nickens, 1982; (13)Turner, 1988; (14) Malville, 1989; (15)Baker, 1990;116)White, 1988,1991. Map locations of these sites can be
found in references 9 and 11.
‘Bone number refers to whole bones and fragmentary pieces.
3Values based on only two individuals because of postexcavation bone loss.
‘Nickens’ [ref. 10) counts for MNI and total pieces were not used in the summary averages, but his breakage percent was included for average
breakage.
’Not comparable. White (1992) considered a bone to be whole if a t least half of the bone was intact, nevertheless, breakage was extensive.
cations of violence and cannibalism have
been reported (Tables 1, 21, or are under
study by several workers (listings that include published reports, work in progress
and other cases can be found in Turner and
Turner, 1992a,in preparation; Turner et al.,
in press; White, 1992).
In 1983, a fourth taphonomic criterion
was identified and defined for proposing
cannibalism, namely anvil abrasions
(Turner, 1983). The term perimortem was
also coined at this time to define bone damage that had occurred at or around the time
of death. A fifth criterion, many missing vertebrae, has recently been added to the proposed taphonomic signature of cannibalism
because one vertebral fragment with anvil
abrasions and cut marks was discovered in
an episodic multiple burial from yet another
site (Canyon Butte, Arizona). This discovery
finally explained why so many vertebrae
were missing or highly fragmented in all
Anasazi episodic multiple burials with ap-
parent cannibalism (Turner and Turner,
1992a; White, 1992). Seemingly, in all these
sites, the vertebrae had been processed for
oil, as had the long bones been cracked open
to extract marrow. Burning, breakage, and
anvil abrasions are illustrated in Figures
1-8. No cut or abraided vertebrae were
found in the Chaco Small House assemblage, but examples can be seen in Turner
and Turner (1992a) and White (1992) as can
stone tool cut marks that are usually
V-shaped in cross section with internal striations.
A sixth damage type was identified by
White (1992) based on his detailed reexamination of the seemingly cannibalized human
remains excavated in Mancos Canyon, Colorado, first studied by Nickens 11975). This
damage of the ends of long bone fragments
White calls “pot polishing.” White showed by
experiment that fragment tip polishing can
result from stirring bone fragments in a pottery cooking vessel, and that identical pol-
423
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
TABLE 2. Demography of published Anasazi episodic burials
Site
Chaco Small House
Fence Lake
Burnt Mesa
Sambrito Village
Polacca Wash
Monument Valley
Ash Creek
Teec Nos Pos
Tragedy House
Leroux Wash
Canyon Butte
Mancos Canyon
Grinnell
Marshview Hamlet
Yellow Jacket
Rattlesnake
42SA12209
Totals
Percent
Male
2
4
1
2
1
2
Adult'
Female
Sex?
2
2
2
1
(under reinvestigation)
2
15
1
4
Subadult
Child
4
1
1
1
4
3
1
Aee?
1
3
8
1
1
1
1
(under reinvestigation)
1
2
1
3
2
1
22
14.1
1
1
5
1
1
1
15
1
1
1
4
3
3
4
1
15
9.6
47
30.1
26
16.7
1
1
9
2
2
7
7
2
43
27.6
3
1.9
Total
8
5
11
(512
30
7
5
2
4
(33)
4
29
7
6
14
20
4
156
'Analysts differed in their amount of experience and definitions of age classes. The values in this table should be viewed relatively.
'Values in parentheses not used for total number.
ishing occurs on Anasazi animal bone food
refuse. He also describes in great detail
where the Mancos Canyon body parts were
burned, and in so doing develops a compelling case for roasting as well as boiling. In
addition, he compares the Mancos human
remains with Anasazi animal food refuse,
showing substantial similarities in the occurrence, quantity, and location of the damage criteria. Other studies on butchering
and processing damage in Anasazi human
and faunal remains include Dice (1993),
Turner and Dytrych (in preparation), and
Turner and Turner (1990). All six minimal
perimortem damage criteria for proposing
Anasazi cannibalism are abundantly and
well illustrated in the reports cited in Table
1,especially the book-length study by White
(1992).
THE CHACO SMALL HOUSE
CHARNEL PIT
Briefly, the Chaco Small House site was
named and excavated in 1926 by F.H.H.
Roberts, Jr., but he never reported on this
asDect of his Southwest fieldwork. which in&ded many more important archeological
sites. ~h~ ten-or-so room small H~~~~is located in Chaco Canyon, northwestern New
Mexico, and seemingly dates around AD
Fig. 1. Adult and subadult cranial fragments with extensive perimortem breakage, especially facial. Burning
occurred on right mastoid an d frontal areas in upper left
adult, both being areas with minimal protective soft tissue (CGTneg. 5-20-92:l).
424
C.G. TURNER
Fig. 2. Subadult temporal bone with burned left mastoid region (CGT neg. 5-20-92:14).
900. Beneath the floor of one room Roberts’
Navajo workmen discovered a pit filled with
broken and burned bones (see Appendix A).
Roberts’ field notes have measurements
and other minor details about the charnel
pit, including the observation that it contained a jumbled, broken, and partly burned
series of human bone fragments. Because he
was a very professional archeologist, had
there been any gravegoods, or signs of ritual
or ceremonialism, or had he found more
damaged human bones elsewhere in the
small pueblo, he would have noted such important details. In a 1957 personal letter to
F. McNitt (1966, p. 3381, Roberts speculated
without explanation that the Small House
damaged human remains might have resulted from ceremonial cannibalism or human sacrifice.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
Sorting of the mixed remains was done by
skeletal element, side, and age, leaving a
residue of small unidentifiable long bone
fragments. The series also contained one
deer-sized nonhuman proximal femur fragment, with perimortem breakage. The human bones were either immature, highly
fragmented, or gracile, so sex identification
was limited t o only two questionable female
elements (Table 3). The series had been
carefully cleaned, so the surface of every
piece of bone could be easily examined with
a 20x hand lens and a 75 watt reflector
flood lamp. Two femurs had been largely
reassembled (“conjoined” to use White’s
[1991, 19921 term), with the very strong
dark dense glue frequently encountered in
older Smithsonian specimens, sometime between accessioning and my examination.
The bone condition was generally ivory-like
in hardness, creamy white in color, showed
very little root damage, and had no obvious
sun bleaching or ground surface weathering. A few fragments were porous, crumbly,
and fragile, but showed no sign of thermal
alteration. None of the perimortem damage
shows signs of healing o r infection. There
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
425
Fig. 3. Hammerstone impact fracturing with conchoidal depressed bone chips of anterior surface,
proximal right subadult femur fragment (CGT neg. 5-20-92:18).
purple staining of the interior surface of one
frontal bone, presumably due to postmortem
soil or microbial conditions.
There are many skeletal elements missing
from these eight individuals-most of the
cranial elements; all of the occipitals, parietals, clavicles, and hand bones. Assuming
lnventory
eight individuals, only three of the expected
Table 3 provides the skeletal element in- 192 vertebrae are represented. Because the
ventory totaling 152 whole bones or frag- charnel pit assemblage contained some very
ments. On the basis of the number of mandi- small bone fragments less than 2 cm in
bles, eight individuals (MNI) can be length, it is likely that the butchering,
identified, three more than Roberts (Appen- breaking, and burning of the bodies took
dix A) and the museum catalog card indi- place nearby, meaning that the larger and
cated. All the mandible fragments are num- missing vertebrae were destroyed or not
bered 334,055, so our differences are not due buried, which will be discussed later. This
overall representation, mainly skull parts,
to postaccession mixing.
Aside from periodontal disease and dental some shoulder and pelvic pieces, and many
caries, including decayed deciduous molar long bone fragments, is a taphonomic charocclusal surfaces, the only pathology noted acteristic of most other Anasazi multiple
was moderately severe bilaterally symmet- burials where cannibalism has been hypothrical cribra orbitalia in the orbits of one of esized (see reports cited in Table 1). Because
the subadult frontal bones. There is light of the extreme fragmentation of the eight
were 56 loose teeth that could not be
matched up with the empty maxillary and
mandibular tooth sockets, suggesting some
alveolar bone loss before, during, or after
excavation. The dental morphology fits the
Sinodont American Indian pattern.
C.G. TURNER
426
Fig. 4. Adult female (?) and subadult femurs plus two other long bone fragments that had been
reassembled before this study. Fragment in upper left had burned, but fits with two adjacent unburned
fragments, thus breaking had occurred before burning (CGT neg. no. 5-20-925).
people, age and sex identification was difficult to determine, sex especially. The MNI of
eight individuals and their ages were based
on the number of mandibles and dental development.
Perimortem damage
Cut marks
Perimortem damage that involved direct
human acts includes cut marks on one frontal, one temporal, one skull fragment, three
mandibles, two humeri, two femurs, and two
unidentifiable long bone fragments. Thus,
7.9% (12/152) of the whole bone and fragment inventory has cut marks. The number
of identifiable cut marks is comparable with
the range and mean of cut marks in the assemblages listed in Table 1.
Breakage
Slightly more than half (58.5%;89/152) of
the Small House inventory evidences peri-
mortem breakage (Figs. la),
which had the
effect of exposing the brain and long bone
marrow cavities, about 20% less than most
of the other such sites. Perimortem breakage is readily differentiated from dry bone
breakage by spiral fracturing, smooth unstepped fracture surfaces, and embedded
bone chips.
Abrasions
The presence of perimortem anvil or hammerstone abrasions (Fig. 6) on 6.6%(10/152)
of the Small House bones and fragments,
helps visualize how the bones were broken,
as well as demonstrates that the overlying
skin, fat, and muscle had been removed
prior to the shaft and head fragmentation.
Had soft tissue been in place, the accidental
abrasions of the impacted bone slipping off
an anvil stone, or rotating slightly when hit
with a hammerstone, could not have occurred. Abrasion frequency is similar to that
reported in other episodic burials (Table 1).
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
427
Fig. 5. Representative long bone fragments showing perimortem breakage similar to animal bone food
refuse. At least one piece had burned (upper center). The other dark fragments seem to have been
discolored by soil conditions (CGT neg. no. 5-20-92:6).
Burning
As with most other Anasazi charnel pits
or floor deposits where cannibalism has
been proposed, the Small House assemblage
has some burned bone (Fig. 21, here 3.9%
(6/152) of the inventory, at the lower end of
the range in Table 1. As elsewhere, some of
the burning was unintentional-a few long
bone fragments falling into a fire (Fig. 5). A
few of the burnt or scorched pieces can be
fitted to unburned fragments (Fig. 4). However, here as well as in other such skeletal
series, there is some evidence of possible
head and other body part roasting (Figs. 1,
2 ) . This possibility usually presents itself
when there is scorching or charcoaling on
external anatomical locations where little
soft tissue overlies a given bone or region,
for example, the upper vault, elbows, and
lower mandibular borders. The Chaco Small
House series has three such external burned
spots from possible roasting-two on the
mastoid processes of an adult and subadult,
and one on an adult frontal bone. There are
at least two “accidentally”burned long bone
fragments. The small amount of burning or
scorching is not indicative of a multiple cremation or accidental fire victims.
Missing vertebrae
There are only three vertebrae, each undamaged, out of an expected 192, or 1.6%.
Given that there are many missing elements
in the Small House assemblage, this low
amount would not be meaningful were it not
for the fact that missing and damaged vertebrae characterize all of the Anasazi assemblages suggesting cannibalism.
Polishing
Pot-polishing is present on 10.5%(16/152)
of the assemblage, mostly on the end tips
and spurs of long bone fragments. Polishing
is difficult to identify because it usually occurs on a very small surface area, usually
less than 0.25 mm2. During my first exami-
C.G. TURNER
428
Fig. 6. Anvil abrasions on long bone breakage plane (CGT neg. no. 5-20-92:8)
nation of the Small House series I missed
finding any polishing because I was using
good but diffused ceiling lighting. My second
examination employed a strong reflector
flood lamp mounted close to my field of 20x
hand lens inspection, and 16 end-polished
fragments were recognized. There was no
polishing on the sides of these fragments.
Natural damage
Because there are no sure signs of sun
bleaching or ground surface weathering
cracks, and a complete absence of scavenger
damage, that is, carnivore tooth puncture
marks, gnawed ends of long bones, and the
distinctive gnawing incisions of porcupines,
wood rats, and other rodent teeth, it is likely
that the remains were not left exposed on
the ground surface for any extended period
of time before deposition. This chronistic information suggests that the trauma, butchering, and subsequent burial were part of an
episodic event that took place over a relatively short period of time, perhaps a few
days or weeks at most. The absence of wood
rat gnawing is noteworthy in light of Pepper’s (1920) repeated remarks about the several formal and considerate (mindful of the
deceased) burials he excavated in Chaco
Canyon that had been severely disturbed by
“rats.”
Violence
Violence can be suggested on taphonomic
grounds for the Small House series. One of
the subadults (15-18 years old) has the maxillary anterior teeth smashed, with root
sockets “blown” out, and fragments of root
tips remaining in a few sockets (Figs. 7, 8).
Another subadult had received a heavy blow
to the head causing the first molar to be
severely fractured. While this facial and
dental damage could have resulted from
breaking open the cranial vault to gain access to the brain, as White (1992) has suggested, the absence of anvil or hammerstone
abrasions in the anterior tooth regions in all
individuals is more suggestive of violence or
mutilation. Elsewhere, for example, at
Largo-Gallina site Bg 20 in northwestern
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
429
Fig. 7. Blown out maxillary anterior tooth sockets with retained fractured root tips. There are no anvil
or hammerstone abrasions present here or in Figure 8 (CGT neg. 5-20-92:20).
New Mexico, perimortem facial damage
with blown out anterior teeth occurs in noncannibalized remains of mainly men who
had met violent deaths as evidenced by embedded projectile points, head wounds, and
their bodies heaped on the floors of abandoned or burned rooms (Turner et al., in
press). But, as in all other seemingly cannibalized Anasazi series, the Small House remains have no projectile points in any bone
or bone fragment, nor are there any traces of
penetration wounds from pointed bone or
stone weapons, facts that correlate well with
the extensive body processing. Most head
and body wounds cannot be identified in
these cannibalized series because the heads
and bodies are so extensively broken up.
Whole or broken projectile or spear points
would have been recoverable following defleshing and bone breaking.
DISCUSSION
The major perimortem damage of the
Small House series resulted from human ac-
tivity, not animal, geologic, or weathering
agencies. The kinds and amount of damage
correspond well with other Anasazi sites
where cannibalism has been proposed (Table 1). The characteristics of the perimortem
damage are butchering; bone breakage to
expose brain, marrow, and oil cavities; and
consequences attributable to roasting and
boiling.
The subfloor human bone deposit found
by Roberts at Small House is yet another
example of traumatized, multiple, and
seemingly cannibalized individuals in the
Anasazi culture area. All six of the minimal
taphonomic criteria are present for hypothesizing cannibalism. As best as can be determined from Roberts’ excavation notes (Appendix A), it would appear that the burial
was also episodic in duration. He related
that the remains were deposited beneath
the floor of room 4 and seemingly near a
wall. The vertical extent of the bone mass
may have been about 2 feet. Thus, the remains did not accumulate over months or
430
C.G. TURNER
Fig. 8. Blown out alveolar border of adult mandibular right canine. The first molar was diseased, not
perimortem damaged (CGT neg. 5-20-92:31).
years of room filling, nor were they scattered
horizontally. Roberts’neatly measured 1926
sketch map of the irregularly-shaped pueblo
shows room 4 located in the center of about
ten rooms. It is unknown whether the charnel pit was intrusive, dug before, or related
to the construction date of room 4.
It is possible that not all of the bone was
recoverable or saved by Roberts’ Navajo laborers. Roberts noted that many of the
bones showed signs of fire, yet less than 5%
could be identified positively as having been
burned. The relatively large size of most of
the bone fragments suggests that the bone
deposit was not screened, which may explain our difference. And, what is to be made
of his puzzling remark that all of the skulls
showed ‘‘great malformation”? There are
only two nearly complete frontal bones, and
neither of these are deformed in any mechanical or pathological way. There are no
occipital bones, which among Pueblo period
Anasazi are often deformed from cradling
practices, so it is impossible to understand
what it was that led him to record this unusual observation. Perhaps Roberts meant
breakage instead of malformation.
Southwest mortuary practices
Taken as a whole, the Small House remains are certainly not a normal considerate and formal burial. Considerate burials of
multiple individuals are rare in the Southwest (Stanislawski, 1963). The remains do
not show any indications of ceremonialism,
i.e., Roberts did not note red ochre, other
mineral ministration, or any gravegoods,
and the fragmentary and incomplete remains were dumped in a pit beneath the
floor of an isolated common house instead of
in a public, religious, or ceremonial structure. The assemblage is not a secondary
burial, which are also very rare in the
Southwest (Carle, 1941; Hagberg, 19391,because a few small burned fragments can be
fitted to unburned pieces. The small amount
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
of burned bone is not consistent with cremation, which was rarely done in the Anasazi
area, although it was a common mortuary
practice among the desert Hohokam. The individuals were not trapped in a burning
room, to be later broken up and buried in a
pit, because the amount of burning is limited and its location has no relation to the
body areas that would be exposed in a conflagration (Turner et al., 1991). Small
House itself was not burned. Scavengers
were not responsible for the damage, and
the generally good condition of the bone
speaks for an episodic or short duration causality where flesh had been removed. The
removal of the soft tissue and apparent boiling of the fragmented bone limited later bacterial activity that contributes to postmortem bone decay in many considerate
inhumations. The most parsimonious explanation for the overall Small House bone condition, by elimination, is cannibalism. This
conclusion is reviewed in more detail elsewhere for other Anasazi charnel pits and
floor deposits (Turner and Turner, 199213).
Anasazi episodic multiple burials are
functionally different from all other Southwest mortuary acts and behavior. Most of
the latter are typically considerate formal
burials, usually singular, and often with
gravegoods. Such burials occur in patterned
body orientations and predictable cemetery
or interment locations like village plazas
(Salad0 culture), abandoned storage pits
(Basketmakers), trash mounds (Anasazi),
cremation areas (Hohokam), beneath room
floors (children of all culture areas), and
combinations of these and other mortuary
considerations (McGregor, 1965). The episodic burials differ also from instances of
Southwest trophy burials, isolated heads or
other body parts (Wilcox and Haas, 19891,
rock art representations of trophy heads
(Cole, 19891, probable human sacrifice (at
Casas Grandes, Mexico, Di Peso, 1974;
Ravesloot, 1988), people trapped or killed in
burned rooms (Turner et al., 1991), and all
other known Southwest ethnographic and
archeological ceremonial activity involving
the dead.
Unlike areas outside of the Southwest, for
example, the Iroquois region (Ambler and
Logan, 19881, human bone was rarely used
431
by the Anasazi for artifact production or religious ceremonies. Moreover, there is no taphonomic evidence suggesting that the episodic burials are residues of bone tool
production or ceremonial preparations. Anasazi episodic multiple burials or bone deposits are functionally distinguishable from all
other burial situations on taphonomic and
contextual grounds-absence of ceremonial
or any other gravegoods; variable burial locations in kivas, rooms, cemeteries, outside
rooms, and away from habitations altogether; and the site locations where the episodic burials have been found so far are usually small, defenseless, and isolated. To
date, the episodic multiple burials have two
depositional qualities-unburied bone masses
left on floors or mixed with room or kiva
floor fill, and collections of bones and fragments buried in pits by unknown persons.
Only in the latter condition, are they in any
sense burials.
Two proximate models for
Anasazi cannibalism
The question of what caused the Anasazi
perimortem damage seems to be answered
as far as circumstantial evidence permits.
However, there are larger and more theoretical problems that taphonomic analyses
have not fully resolved, namely why was
there apparent cannibalism, and why was
there so much of it?
In 1983 I hypothesized social pathology
(taken from social psychology theory) as a
proximate explanation for these episodic human bone deposits with perimortem damage
suggesting cannibalism and violence. Extant explanations at that time included
emergency, ritual, revenge, gustatory,
endo-, and exocannibalism. It was also proposed that the apparent violence and cannibalism were chaotic precursor events related to the late prehistoric abandonment of
much of the Southwest (Turner and Turner,
1990, 1992a), although no sites suggesting
cannibalism have so far been reported for
the desert Hohokam or mountain Mogollon
culture areas. This general absence among
the Hohokam and Mogollon may simply be
due to the relatively little archeological activity in these areas compared with the
great amount that has been conducted in the
432
C.G. TURNER
TABLE 3. Inventory of Chaco Small House skeletal elements and anthropogenic perimortem damage
Skeletal
element and side
Skull
Frontal
Frontal
Temporal, L
Temporal, L
Temporal, R
Maxilla, L+R
Maxilla, L
Maxilla, L
Skull fragment
Mandible, L+R
Mandible, L
Mandible, R
Mandible, L+R
Mandible, L
Mandible, L+R
Mandible, R
Mandible, L
Vertebrae
Cervical 1
Cervical 2
Lumbar (no. ?)
Rib
No. ?
Pelvis
Ilium, L
Ischium, R
Scapula
Right
Right
Humerus
Right distal
Left whole
Left whole
Right distal
Left proximal
Proximal
Proximal
Ulna
Left
Left & right
Radius
Distal
Midshaft
Fragments
Femur
Right (reassembled) (1)
Right (reassembled) (1)
Patella
Left
Tibia
Right, proximal
Right, distal
Proximal
Distal
Midshaft
Fibula
Fragments
Fragments
Long bone fragments
Type uncertain
Foot
All types
All tmes
Loose iieth
Number
2
1
1
2
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
Age
and sex SA
A
SA
A
SA
15-18
12-15
15-18
?
3-4
12
12
12-15
12-15
A
A
?
Breakage
2
1
0
0
0
1
1
1
0
1
1
0
Pieces with perimortem damage
Abrasions ~ Burning
_
_
Cutting
_1
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
I
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
1
0
1
0
0
1
1
0
0
1
0
Polish
_
0
1
0
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
SA
A
SA
0
0
0
0
1
SA
1
0
0
0
1
1
SA
SA
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
SA
A
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
1
1
1
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
1
SA
A (F?)
A
A
A
A
SA
0
0
0
0
2
2
A
SA
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
A
SA
SA
1
0
0
6
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
A (F?)
SA
8
5
2
5
0
0
0
1
0
?
?
1
A
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
4
A
1
1
4
1
2
0
0
A
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2
4
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2
7
1
14
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
?
0
0
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
6
8
2
SA
SA
A
2
4
SA
A
1
37
A
37
18
A
22
SA
0
0
56
A & SA
?
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
(Continued 1
433
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
TABLE 3. Inventory of Chaco Small House skeletal elements and anthropogenic perimortem damage (Continued)
Skeletal
element and side
Totals (whole bones and
fragments, excluding
teeth)
Number
152l
Age
and sex
Pieces with perimortem damage
Breakage
2 A'
89
Cutting
12
Abrasions
10
Burning
Polish
6
16
3.9
10.5
4 SA
1c
1 age ?
8
Percentapes
58.5
7.9
6.6
The reassembled femurs and two other long bones in Figure 4 were counted a s fragments.
2The number of individuals is based on mandibles, and their ages estimated by dental development. A, adult (>18years); SA, subadult (>12
years); C, child (<12years).
plateau Anasazi area during the last 100
years (Cordell, 1984). On the other hand, the
differences may have only Anasazi historical significance that will be discussed in a
moment. Thus, today, as Tables 1 and 2
show, the literature on Southwest episodic
charnel pits or floor deposits of perimortemdamaged human remains indicates an average of 11.4 individuals per episode, a range
of 2-33 persons per event, and a minimum
total of 194 individuals of all ages and both
sexes that seem to have been cannibalized.
A regional pattern of Anasazi archeological sites with perimortem-damaged skeletal
remains is now well established (Table 1;for
map locations see Turner and Turner,
1992a; White, 1992).This pattern of damage
resulted from the processing of Anasazi victims that parallels the way large game animals were butchered and prepared for consumption (Dice, 1993; Turner and Turner,
1990; White, 1992). However, the sequence
of processing may have varied. White (1992)
feels that burning (roasting) may have preceded some butchering a t Mancos Canyon,
whereas in some series the sequence looks to
have been butchering, breaking, and then
burning (Turner, 1983,1992).
Flinn et al. (1976) reviewed the cannibalism literature in their study of the Burnt
Mesa series, and opted for emergency cannibalism, as did Nickens (1975) for Mancos
Canyon. Turner (1983) and Turner and
Turner (1990) could not find any direct or
indirect basis for suggesting starvation in
most sites, so the new proximate social pathology model was proposed, in part, to
avoid the alternative possibility, namely in-
stitutionalized violence and cannibalism,
and to avoid specific and ultimate explanations such as witchcraft (Merbs, 1989) or
postmortem mutilation (Bullock, 1991) that
could not be demonstrated by the taphonomic or contextual evidence.
The possibility of institutionalization now
has to be explored. Too many of these patterned episodic Anasazi multiple burials
have turned up for them to be only random
socially pathological events. It is also very
doubtful if all of these multiple burials simply represent emergency or starvation cannibalism because of the large numbers of
individuals involved in sites like Leroux
Wash (33 MNI), Mancos Canyon (29 MNI),
and Rattlesnake (20 MNI). Moreover, if
emergency cannibalism was the sole causality, one or two such sites like the infamous
Donner and Packer examples would be expected for the mountain Mogollon area
where winter snowfalls are often deep and
long-lasting. What is most striking is that
several of the Anasazi sites with apparent
cannibalism seem to date at about the same
time period as the rapid rise of the complex
and far-flung Chaco nucleus and nodal system of Great Houses and roads, although
where dating is relatively secure a few series
are earlier (42SA12209) or later (Polacca
Wash).
As far as I know, there is no other region
in the world where there is both a wealth of
archeological information for the rapid development or introduction of a new sociopolitical system associated with as many reported mass burials evidencing violence and
possible cannibalism as there is in the Ana-
434
C . G . TURNER
sazi area. With respect to the magnitude of
the episodic burials, four more sites have
been discovered and excavated within the
last 4 years, three in northwest New Mexico
and one in southwest Colorado. J.A. Turner
and I have just completed examining other
unstudied episodic multiple burials excavated before 1980, bringing the total to
about 40 Anasazi sites with multiple human
burials or bone deposits exhibiting varying
degrees of probable cannibalism and violence (Turner and Turner, in preparation;
Turner et al., in press). At least 473 individuals were involved, many evidencing cannibalism. Patently, this number of sites and
total MNI is not just an archeological issue.
Instead, it is one that requires the cooperation of archeologists, skeletal biologists, and
bioarcheologists in order to bring diverse expertise to a complex problem hinting at systems failures and growing chaos in the
post-AD 900 Anasazi culture and population.
The alternative model, institutionalized
violence and cannibalism, can be entertained if it is assumed that the Anasazi had
evolved, borrowed, or had imposed upon
them from Mesoamerica, complex social organization with ranked individuals and specialized organizations, including quasi-military war societies. Such seems to be the case
for the Chaco Great House phenomena, evidenced by the monumental architecture and
exotic material culture found in the large
Chaco Canyon communities, the apparent
social, religious, and political center of a network of some 75 prehistoric “towns”in New
Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona linked together with more than 650 km of approximately 10 m wide straight roads (Cordell,
1984; Judge, 1979; Wilcox, submitted). In
Chaco Canyon, there was planned and directed monumental architecture involving
hundreds of rooms and great kivas. There
were high status burials in Pueblo Bonito,
the largest of Chaco Canyon’s great houses,
along with rare or exotic items in various of
Chaco’s buildings such as imported Mexican
macaws and copper bells, unique Mexicanlike pottery incense burners and human effigy vessels, large amounts of locally mined
and processed turquoise, and other elements expected of a society with substantial
centralized authority (Cordell, 1979, 1984;
Frisbie, 1978; Lister, 1978; Pepper, 1909,
1920; Reyman, 1978).
Given the limited soil, water, and timber
in Chaco Canyon, the relatively large number of inhabitants, as estimated by room
numbers and other considerations, must
have required nutritional and diverse material support from outside the canyon. All
Chaco prehistory experts agree on this. Estimates vary, but Hayes et al. (1981) allow
that well over 5,000 people occupied Chaco
Canyon in the 12th century. These experts
also agree that the Chacoan towns were well
organized, and their inhabitants had farflung influences and contacts that in some
way or other even reached into northern
Mexico.
Building on a huge body of Anasazi archeological literature, Wilcox (1992, submitted)
has proposed that the Great House phenomena, within and outside of Chaco Canyon,
represented a regional sociopolitical system
or state involving trade, tribute, and military activity among some 24,000 people. In
order to maintain the necessary “voluntary”
support, Wilcox believes that the Chacoans
would have needed an enforcing mechanism, which could well have included along
with religious and trade mechanisms, a
quasi-military group(s). This is easy to envision in light of the large powerful warrior
societies that once existed in most eastern
and western Puebloan towns (Beaglehole
and Beaglehole, 1935; Dozier, 1954; Eggan,
1950; Ellis, 1951; Fewkes, 1902; Hawley,
1937; Parsons, 1939; Woodbury, 1958). Under orders from their religious and war
chiefs, Anasazi warriors might have committed example-setting acts of extraordinary violence against tribute- or politically
resisting individuals or entire communities,
as has happened throughout the world and
up to the present day. Historic Pueblo Indians were skilled and courageous warriors,
and insofar as ethnographic analogy permits, so must have been their ancestors a
few centuries earlier.
There is no doubt that there was warfare
and raiding among the Anasazi (Haas, 1990;
Mackey and Green, 1979; Upham and Reed,
1989; Wilcox and Haas, 1989; Woodbury,
1958). Accounts of historic Puebloan vio-
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
lence and possible cannibalism begin with
the very first foreign contact. Esteban, a
North African who was the first foreigner in
the Southwest, was on his arrival at the
Zuni villages ordered killed by Zuni leaders
and “cut into a great many pieces, which
were distributed among all the chiefs” (Bandelier, 1892, p. 14). In 1680, Puebloan leaders and their followers in many towns secretly planned and successfully brought off
large-scale simultaneous attacks against
Spanish colonists throughout New Mexico
and Arizona, killing more than 400, and
driving away for several years all who survived the revolt (Sando, 1979). In AD 1700,
an attack planned by Hopi chiefs was carried out with the intent of destroying another Hopi town, Awatovi, and all its inhabitants. Awatovi may have had at the time
800 or more people (Fewkes, 1912). Historic
accounts, Hopi legends, and taphonomic and
archeological findings indicate that most of
the Awatovians were killed, and some were
probably cannibalized (Turner and Morris,
1970). The reasons for these Pueblo warrior
actions against Esteban, the Spanish, and
the Awatovians vary, but the point is that
historic Puebloan communities had large
numbers of capable warriors who executed
the commands of their leaders and quasimilitary war chiefs. Hence, there is good reason to expect the same of Anasazi leaders
and warriors a few centuries earlier.
It is apparent that the Anasazi episodic
burials are patterned, distinctive, and have
taphonomic correspondence with the events
surrounding the historic destruction of
Awatovi and its townspeople. But, can the
patterning and prehistoric distinctiveness
be linked to institutionalized prehistoric behavior? Perhaps. First, it is reasonable to
assume that all individuals in a given episodic burial were alive just prior to their
being dispatched and butchered. The number of individuals represented in an episodic
burial or bone deposit had to have been assaulted, constrained, or entrapped by an
equal or larger number of adult antagonists
or assailants. This tactical necessity,
whether intra- or internecine, suggests the
same degree of institutionalized organization as found in all Puebloan hunting and
war parties (Parsons, 1939).
435
Second, the age, sex, context, and natural
diagenesis of the Anasazi mass burials suggest rapid destructive action against any
members of small isolated settlements, not
the eating of helpless children and the elderly by the strongest individuals during protracted and severe winter storms. These
mass burials are not Donner parties (Grayson, 1990).
Third, the quasi-military enforcement aspect of the institutionalized violence model
would benefit from finding an episodic, multiple, and cannibalized burial in Chaco Canyon itself, especially at the beginning of the
Great House development, which this report
provides. What is more, Small House is not
the only ruin in Chaco Canyon where violence and cannibalism may have occurred.
Even before Roberts excavated Small
House, Pepper (1920) had concluded that
cannibalism had been practiced in Chaco
Canyon. His view was based on the finding
of broken, burned, and scattered human
bone on certain room floors in Pueblo Bonito
and Penasco Blanco. Not all of Pepper’s, or
other earlier and later archeologist’s, Chaco
Canyon skeletal material has been located
and restudied, but so far I have tracked
down an adult male (Smithsonian 327139)
from Pueblo Bonito with anvil abrasions on
his frontal bone, blown out anterior teeth,
and unhealed perimortem vault and nasal
bone fractures. At the American Museum of
Natural History there is a Pueblo Bonito
adult male (W3672) with unhealed cut
marks on the left temporal and perimortem
breakage of the right temporal (see also
Akins, 1986). Both of these men seem to
have been treated in violent fashions, but
they were not cannibalized.
The Anasazi cannibalism hypothesis has
not gone without challenge (Bullock, 19911,
but has been rebutted (Turner and Turner,
1992b). The proximate social pathology hypothesis was proposed to avoid the logical
alternative, namely institutionalized violence and cannibalism. Baker (1990) accepted cannibalism had occurred a t Rattlesnake ruin, and proposed that it could have
been a form of social control. Baker may in
fact be close to the truth if these episodic
Anasazi multiple burials can somehow be
scientifically linked to control mechanisms,
436
C.G. TURNER
such as the destruction of Awatovi, and as
implied by the rapid development of the
Anasazi culture and population growth beginning around AD 900. If this could be done
with some form of direct physical or indirect
distributional evidence, then the charnel
pits and bone deposits might be viewed as
acts of coercive terrorism and example-setting. The enforcement argument is testable,
in the sense that it 1) predicts episodic burials with the cannibalism signature should
be earliest in the region where the rise of
large communities first occurred, and 2) the
burials should be spatially associated with
these communities.
There is one major problem with a generalized social control model, namely, the Hohokam also had a strongly developed regional system, but no episodic burials have
ever been reported. However, this may be
the fault of skeletal biologists who have
studied Hohokam remains, because cremations, the most common Hohokam burial
type, have never been systematically examined from a taphonomic perspective, and because uncremated Hohokam skeletons are
often badly preserved due to desert soil and
climatic conditions.
CONCLUDING REMARKS
In sum, the mixed remains of eight extensively fragmented individuals ranging in
age from childhood to young adults were
buried beneath a floor in a small pueblo in
Chaco Canyon sometime after they had
died, been dismembered, and their bones
variously broken, cut, burned, and boiled.
The lack of scavenger tooth marks or gnawing incisions, and the absence of surface
bleaching and cracking, indicate that the remains were not left exposed to animals or
weathering, instead they were deposited by
unknown persons shortly after the event
that led to the victims’ extensive skeletal
damage. All six minimal taphonomic criteria deemed necessary before cannibalism
can be proposed are present at Small
House-breakage, cutting, anvil or hammerstone abrasions, burning, many missing
vertebrae, and fragment end-polishing. The
taphonomic bone damage signature of the
Small House charnel pit matches that found
in several other Anasazi mass burials where
cannibalism and violence have been proposed and social pathology offered as the
proximate explanation for bone damage.
These burials could represent, in addition to
random chaotic social pathology, an extreme
form of deliberate social control, genocide, or
tribute enforcement.
The story of the rapid development of the
large post-AD 900 Anasazi settlements, especially the Chacoan Great House phenomena, with its monumental architecture, revolutionary road system, numerous linked
outlyer communities, elite burials, long-distance trade in the Four Corners area and
Mexico, and the all important regional tribute, may have had its domineering and disruptive beginning at small defenseless
farming settlements like Small House. It is
unclear if Anasazi cultural efflorescence
was due strictly to local evolution, or stimulated by Mesoamerican influences or migrants (Cordell, 1984). But, it is becoming
ever more evident that even in northern
Mexico, far from the Mesoamerican heartland, human sacrifice and cannibalism were
institutionalized practices associated with
ritual, warfare, and social and territorial
control (Kelley, 1978). Did those practices
extend even further northward into the
Anasazi area?
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Permission to study, photograph, and report on the Small House skeletal series was
granted by D.J. Ortner, Chairman, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of
Natural History, Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, D.C. Assistance was provided
by physical anthropology collections manager D.R. Hunt, and National Anthropological Archives librarians. Chaco Canyon National Historical Park archeologist, D. Ford,
permitted our site inspection, and generously provided copies of Small House site
records, maps, and ceramic analyses. Travel
funds were granted by my Department’s Research and Development Committee, chaired
by J.F. Martin. D.R. Wilcox, Curator, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, generously lectured to my Spring, 1992, human
taphonomy class on his ideas and evidence
for the political evolution of the Chacoan
multisettlement polity system. I also thank
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
the two anonymous reviewers, M. Cartmill,
and J.A. Turner €or their valuable suggestions on this report.
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APPENDIX A
In reanalyzing and searching literature
relevant to a Utah mass burial excavated in
1893 by Richard Wetherill (Turner, 1983;
Hurst and Turner, 1990), a remark was
noted in one appendix in McNitt’s (1966, p.
338) biography of Wetherill that was the
stimulus for the present paper. McNitt
quoted from a letter (January 1957?) he had
received from archeologist Frank H.H. Rob-
CANNIBALISM IN CHACO CANYON
erts, Jr., that commented on an unpublished
find Roberts had made a t a small ruin 9
miles east of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, northwestern New Mexico. Roberts related that he had found beneath one of the
room floors of the “Small House” remains of
five burned and broken-up individuals, ages
10-18 years old: “The bones were in a jumbled mass and many of them showed the
effects of fire. Most of the long bones had
been split and the marrow removed while
the skulls were broken into several pieces
and were cupped. Whether they represented
the remains of ceremonial cannibalism or of
human sacrifice is a question.”
Because Roberts was a member of a
1926 National Geographic Society-sponsored Chaco Canyon expedition, led by
Smithsonian archeologist N.M. Judd (19271,
it seemed possible that if the Small House
remains had been saved, they might be curated at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. With the
help of D.R. Hunt, the skeletal series was
located, having been accessioned as 95112
(catalog number 3340551, on February 7,
1927, for five individuals. Although there
were no records of the Small House remains
ever having been studied, the series had
been handled in the recent past because the
small storage tray containing the post-cranial bones had a few teeth in a modern plastic bag.
On May 20 and September 16, 1992, I
studied lot 334055, and in the Smithsonian’s
National AnthropologicalArchives reviewed
Roberts’ 1926 field notebook (Roberts papers, Box l ) . Roberts made only the following comments about the charnel pit and its
contents:
Small House. Dwelling of the Early Period . . . Located 250 feet south of the Small Pueblo described in
the preceding pages. Is at the foot of the talus tonguing out of the cliffs.
In contrast to the Small Pueblo which was largely
foundations and which show a pre-conceived plan,
439
this Small House just grew and as a result is very
irregular in outline. There’s no regular divisions of
rooms. etc.
There seems to have been a number of surfaces of
occupation. . . Lp. 251.
Room 4 [various measurements] . . . Mass of skeletons
2.5 [presumably feet1 below foundation of west wall.
Bottom of mass 4.5 below [p. 331.
upright slabs in bottom of Room 4 . . . Many of the long
bones were cracked & many of the bones showed sign
of fire. Skulls were all in pieces and one of them had
the pieces cupped, not smashed down. All of the
skulls showed great malformation [p. 441.
On page 9 of Roberts’ notebook is his
sketch map of the site locality dated July
1926, showing Small Pueblo, Small House, a
“dump,” and the location of these features
relative to two adjacent arroyos that empty
into the main Chaco wash. There is no
sketch of the multiple burial, and no photographs could be located. There are no known
artifacts associated with the multiple
burial. Today, this small ruin is inventoried
as 29852385 and LA42385 according to National Park Service site survey records compiled in July 1983 by archeologists P.J.
McKenna and J. Miles. They found that the
styles of pottery sherds a t Small House
range mostly from AD 950-1225. Chaco
Canyon Park Service archeologist D. Ford
suggested that Small House was probably
occupied at the earlier end of the range. On
June 9,1992, with permission and help from
Ford, J.A. Turner and I visited Small House
to get a sense of the setting and environment. The 7 by 15 m roughly rectangular
structure is situated in a grass, juniper,
sage, and saltbush plant community thinly
dispersed on deep loose sandy-silty alluvium
at an elevation of ca. 1900 m. One explanation for the location of Small House is the
presence of a seep in the 30 m high coalveined sandstone canyon wall 200 m to the
west. The strongest impression gained was
one of relative isolation and defenselessness.
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