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

Anatomical and biological reconstruction of mortuary rituals: case studies from colonial Eten, Lambayeque, Peru


Behavioral Science Department, Utah Valley University

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A central challenge in bioarchaeology today involves greater integration of physical anthropologists in the field excavation of human remains. This is especially true considering the growing awareness of the field methodology of archaeothanatology and its potential to contribute to reconstructions of burial patterns, paleopathology, and other biocultural dimensions of the past. In this poster, we examine two case studies of highly unusual mortuary treatments of ethnically Muchik children in the Early Colonial mission church established in the seaside settlement of Eten, north coast Peru. We hypothesize that seated and flexed children, one of which was buried inverted, represented some kind “deviant burial” during a period of unprecidented social tension and conflict. Via the archaeothanatological approach, strict anatomical in situ observation, documentation, and analysis of bone positioning and taphonomy reconstructs these potential bundle burials, and shows they are no different than any late pre-Hispanic burial of the same seated-flexed or even inverted positioning. Also, bioarchaeological data pertaining to population patterning of acute and chronic childhood stress, growth, and nutrition only reveal the rather unremarkable life histories and deaths of these children. Application of anatomical and skeletal biological information allows us to reject the hypothesis. Instead, these atypical interments probably reflect an early and rapidly terminated expression of religious syncretism during the Early Colonial encounter in Eten. In terms of methods, this work highlights the value of anatomical excavation and observation of human skeletal remains and the cross-disciplinary potentials of further integrating physical anthropology and field archaeology.

This research was generously supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant 1026169), the Wenner-Gren Foundation (Grant 7392), Utah Valley University's Grants For Engaged Learning (2010), the Phased Grants Program (2011), Research Fellowship Program (2011), Presidential Scholarship Awards (2010), the Scholarly Creative Opportunities Program, (2009-11), and the College of Humanities and Social Science's Dean's Office (2010, 2011).

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