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

Face me like a man (or, like a woman): antemortem nasal fractures in pre-Columbian San Pedro de Atacama, Chile


1Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Museo, Universidad Católica del Norte, 2Department of Anthropology, Colorado College

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The Middle Period (AD 400-1000), in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, was a time of prosperity and foreign influence, however, also of conflict and violence. Analyses of antemortem nasal fractures in 443 individuals interred in five contemporary cemeteries allows for an exploration of interpersonal conflict in a time of a peace.

Our analysis showed 70 (15.8%) adults had antemortem cranial fractures; the overwhelming majority was limited to fractures of the nasal bones (58/72 injuries; 80.6%). Very few fractures (5/72 injuries, 69.4%) were on the vault. This pattern suggests face-to-face confrontations, where those involved were in close contact. Although fractures were more common among males, this was not significant, suggesting both sexes were involved in pphysical confrontations. There are some significant differences between the sites in the presence of nasal fractures suggesting the possibility that these patterns were affected by social status. Closer examination of two socially distinct cemeteries from the Solcor ayllu supports this, with 8.6% of individuals from Solcor 3 injured in contrast to 18.6% from Solcor Plaza, a difference that is significant for males (χ2=7.022, p=.008).

The predominance of injuries that likely resulted from face-to-face combat suggests that conflict was resolved in an intimate and standardized manner. The high rate, reaching 30% in one cemetery, indicates that a not inconsequential portion of the population was involved in violent activity. Placing our data in its archaeological context suggest that individuals likely both inflicted and suffered from these nonlethal injuries despite generalized peace and affluence.

This study was supported by a generous from grant from the NSF (BCS-0721229), the Fulbright Program, and Colorado College.

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