The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

An ancient crime scene: a genetic investigation of decapitated individuals from prehistoric Pacific Northwest coast warfare


1Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2Archaeology and History Division, Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

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We provide DNA evidence of community association for decapitated individuals from presumed inter-tribal warfare on the North Pacific Coast of America. Northwest Coast warfare is well documented inthe ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological literature (Ames and Maschner 1999; Angelbeck2007) with skeletal evidence of interpersonal violence as early as 3000 ybp (Cybulski 1990) andfortification structures dated to 2000 ybp (Moss and Erlandson 1992). Five plausible decapitationswere documented at archaeological sites in the Prince Rupert Harbour region, British Columbia: four atthe Lachane site (cal AD700-1130) and one skeleton (cal AD 810-1180) at Garden Island. Three of thefive were morphologically female. A trophy skull at another site had radiocarbon dates not statisticallydifferent from those of the decapitations. Mini-STRs, HVS1 of mitochondrial DNA and Y-STR (malesonly) data were collected and analyzed for all ancient individuals. DNA extractions were completed in aclean ancient DNA laboratory. We estimated the genetic relationships of the four Lachane decapitatedindividuals, compared the genetic variation of all five decapitated individuals to contemporaneousTsimshian genetic variation, and determined whether the trophy skull may have been from any of thedecapitated individuals. The results of this project provide insight into ancient warfare on the NorthwestCoast.

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