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

Classic Maya warfare and human skeletal trophies: victims and aggressors


Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston

Thursday Morning, Forum Suite Add to calendar

There are many mysteries about Classic Maya warfare. It is not clear what was the scale of individual battles and strategies, who were the fighters from the various polities, etc. What does seem to be clear is its importance to rulers and elite males, because of the information archaeologists have gleaned from iconography and the Maya writing system. The taking of captives and skeletal trophies are clearly indicated, as is the praise given to successful warriors. Bioarchaeology can definitely identify skeletal trophies, as well as sometimes, the victorious warrior. Using data from Copan, Honduras, and the Sibun Valley, Belize, several cases of an important interment and associated skeletal parts from another individual are described, as well as evidence of trophies not associated with another interment but with a house for young elite men (warriors in training?). The individual traits deducible from the skeletal elements of both victims and aggressors show that only males are involved but age can vary widely, information that helps answer some questions about Classic Maya warfare.

Funding for the Copan osteological study has come from the World Bank, the Fulbright Foundation, and the University of Houston. Permission for the study is given by the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historía.

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