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

Murder, sacrifice, or veneration: reconstructing the identities of the victims of lethal violence interred in Room 33


Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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Of the fourteen burials interred in Pueblo Bonito’s Room 33 (c. 850-1150 AD), three adult males show evidence of severe perimortem cranial trauma. This research utilizes forensic and bioarchaeological techniques to identify the types of fracturing, the taphonomic context and the possible motivations behind why these males were targeted for violent deaths. Burial H/3672, aged 45-55, was associated with an excessive amount of turquoise and other exotic grave goods. He has three sharp force traumatic injuries to the cranium. This burial appears to be the first one placed in the room (690-940 cal AD) (Plog and Heitman 2010). The other two males (H/3661 and H/3668), aged 25-35, were also bludgeoned to death. They have panfacial fractures, which are fractures that involve multiple facial bones, the cranial vault, and the mandible. (He et al. 2007: 2459). According to Plog and Heitman (2010: 19623), these two males were interred much later (1023-1185 cal AD). Thus, within the larger burial assemblage recovered from Room 33, one male with cranial fractures was interred during the earliest phase of Pueblo Bonito's construction, and two males with head wounds were interred during its final periods, as the Chacoan people migrated out of the canyon. Given the context, the nature of the blows to the head, and the timing of the burials, the data suggest that these males were ritually sacrificed. The death of these individuals may have played a major role in the ceremonial and symbolic aspects of the opening and closing of Pueblo Bonito.

This project was partially funded by the Graduate & Professional Student Association at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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