The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Using a regional approach to identifying aggressors in the archaeological record


Sociology and Anthropology, East Tennessee State University

Thursday Morning, Forum Suite Add to calendar

Excavation and analysis of a mass grave at the Postclassic (AD 950-1524) Maya site of Zacpetén in Guatemala demonstrated that the grave was the product of a violent act. Identifying who created and who was interred in the grave was contingent on a regional approach. This presentation compares the Zacpetén mass grave to other relevant Postclassic mass graves in the Maya lowlands in light of osteological, archaeological, and ethnohistorical data. Ethnohistoric sources indicate that the site of Zacpetén fell within a social group named the Kowoj’s territory prior to contact with the Spanish. Archaeological work has demonstrated that Kowoj occupation was marked in part by the presence of architectural assemblages with specific components and distinctive ceramic types. Mass graves are found in conjunction with these assemblages at two other sites, Topoxté and Mayapan. Osteologically, mass graves found in association with these temple assemblages are similar with regard to demography, levels of articulation, and mortuary treatment (the presence of cutmarks). However some differences in taphonomy exist, namely the variable presence of burning among the remains. The dating of the mass grave at Zacpetén is consistent with the time frame that the Kowoj took over the site and suggests that the grave at Zacpeten was produced as a part of that conquest in the form of sacrifice, burial of war dead, or exhumation of enemy ancestors. Thus in this case regional consideration of multiple lines of evidence was required to determine who was responsible for and who was subjected to mortuary violence.

Funding for this project was provided in part by NSF.

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